Maharashtra · Mithi · Mumbai

The Hype, Hypocrisy and reality of Mumbai River Anthem

Above: Dahisar river inside SGNP Photo Aslam Saiyad

Guest Blog by Aslam Saiyad

While documenting the work of the River March organisation[i], whose goal was to rejuvenate Mumbai’s rivers, I came across Adivasi communities who lived inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). I noticed some children standing in school uniforms a few kilometers inside the park. They were getting ready to go to a school which was 7km away. And it surprised me because people living in one of the world’s richest municipalities didn’t have a basic mode of transportation to go to school.

I began to spend time on weekends in the national park, getting to know the communities. And thought of doing a Photo project on the rivers.The focus of my project was not just the river but the communities around it.Many of the communities here are phasing out.I remember going for a function organised by the East Indian community where one of the banners read: ‘If our language dies out, with that we will also die out.’ This is also so true of rivers. So I want to tell stories of the river through the communities that live around it.

Dahisar RIver Near Source. Warli lady  cools her off in Summer of 2016 at 2000 year old Rain water harvesting tank. 
This tank is a part Buddhist Caves known as Kanheri caves located in the North Mumbai built on an ancient route which connects historical towns biblical Soparica (currently known as Nalla Sopara and Vasai) and Kalyan.
Caves are made with a such a methodology that every drop of rain gets stored in the multiple tanks made in the front of classrooms. These caves were Buddhist learning centre.
Overspill of these tanks also acts as a source to Dahisar river. Photo by Aslam Saiyad

I worked for some 8 months clicking pictures around Dahisar river and exhibited pictures in March 2017 under the name Discovering the Forgotten Rivers of Bombay. The exhibition was taken to various banks of river and streets in Dahisar village.

Inside the park, the river has a completely different character. It is beautiful and the water is clear. Children cool off inside it and along the banks of the river, tribal communities have built their lives. So scenic was the river and its environs that it attracted not just picnickers, but also film crews.

Once rivers flow out of SGNP, it changes completely, becoming little more than a sewer into which encroaching human settlements, dhobi ghats and tabelas dump their waste.

Dahisar River Warli boys enjoying their daily routine in monsoon while city people make the point to visit at least once, Chunapada, SGNP, Borivali Photo Aslam Saiyad
Dahisar River. People from Chunapada,Tribal hamlet in SGNP for drinking water depends on this well which is fed by Dahisar river, In summers Dahisar river dries up. Photo Aslam Saiyad

The story is similar for Poinsur, Oshiwara and Mithi rivers, the other three rivers of Mumbai. Untreated toxic waste from industries are directly injected in Goregaon, Kurla, Dharavi areas.

Most of the outlets of public latrines made by local politicians flow directly in to the rivers.

One of the Kolis, Bharat Meher in Mahim Koliwada says, “Swachh Bharat initiative is a big sham, they want to make Mumbai clean, but faeces from our toilets directly goes into Mithi Nadi, they want to fine us when we defecate in open, either ways we are polluting environment.”

MITHI River. a diver tries to find valuables, dives 3-4 hrs daily in polluted and toxic river Photo Aslam Saiyad
Mithi river when meets Arabian sea at Mahim Koliwada Photo Aslam Saiyad

River March, a public movement is trying hard to rejuvenate the  rivers of Mumbai, they started cleaning the origin of Poisar river in slums of Kranti Nagar. Their cleaning program ran several months, but the condition didn’t change, as people don’t have option to trash out the waste, BrihanmumbaiMunicipal Corporation (BMC) hardly comes there. They have their own reasons for not cleaning the area.

River March had also protested against concretization of rivers of Mumbai many times, BMC is not only making the walls but they are also concretizing the river bed. All this is destroying the rivers.

Dahisar River. Dhobi boy Photo Aslam Saiyad
Dahisar River Dhobighat Just outside SGNP Photo Aslam Saiyad

Rivers March celebrates River Utsav every year on 4th March to create awareness about the rivers in Mumbai. This time politicians took advantage of it. Just before this year’s River Utsav, a music video[ii] called The Mumbai River Anthem was released with the help of T Series and few volunteers of River March. It featured Maharashtra Chief Minister DevendraFadnavis with his wife AmrutaFadnavis, Police chief Datta Padsalgikar, Forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and Civic Chief Ajoy Mehta, among others.

The Video shows Tulsi Lake and representing it as river, which possibly shows they do not understand what is a river.Instead, they should have shot at actual polluted rivers which are known as “Nullahs” by common Mumbaikar, to show the real state of Mumbai rivers.

Oshiwara River-A homeless family’s temporary residence on the bridge over Oshiwara river and tabelas (cow and buffalo sheds) Near Ram Mandir Station. Photo- Gopal Sukumara
Oshiwara River-Pollution from drainage water from slums colour the water black at Oshiwara along with hay and waste water from the tabela or cow sheds. Photo- Gopal Sukumara

This video hides the hypocrisy of the Fadanvis Government. In 2015 Fadnavis govt scrapped River Regulation Zone policy, the policy had made areas within two kilometers of high flood lines on either side of river basins no-development zones.

Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar challenged NGO Van Shakti to show the evidence that Aarey is forest. The Fadnavis govt is doing nothing really to save the Mumbai Rivers, on the contrary, many of its actions are destroying the Mumbai Rivers.

Dahisar River Group of Warli Children walking for school which is 7 km away Photo Aslam Saiyad
Discovering Forgotten Rivers of Bombay – photo exhibition. It was exhibited along Dahisar River in Dahisar village.  Many people were surprised to see beautiful river inside SGNP. Photo Aslam Saiyad

The National Green Tribunal has ordered against illegal construction undertaken by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) in Aarey . Despite this and public protest, MMRC continues the work of Metro 3 depot at Aarey. Aarey forest area acts as flood plains for Mithi river. You know what happened in 2005 Mumbai floods.

After public uproar and the controversy Mr. Fadnavis did not attend Dahisar River Utsav, where he was the Chief guest. Though AmrutaFadnavis led[iii]River Utsav, she didn’t have any action plan to rejuvenate Mumbai’s rivers.

Poisar River. Concretization of river continues near the origin, one can see even the river bed is concretized. Photo Aslam Saiyad
Poisar riverbed which has been concretised Photo Aslam Saiyad

We certainly need to celebrate our rivers, including through music and songs, but in case of Mumbai River Anthem, the CM and others who participated in it are doing nothing to save the Mumbai rivers, on the contrary are doing a lot to destroy them.

Aslam Saiyad (aslamsaiyad@gmail.com)

Aslam Saiyad aka Bombay ka shana is a photography teacher in Mumbai and has been involved in documenting Rivers and Warli, Agri, Kolis and East-Indian communities living along these rivers of Mumbai under project name – Mumbai River Photo Project[iv].

He has been exhibiting pictures on street near the rivers to create the awareness. You can find his work on Instagram-Handle called @ mumbai_river_photo_project.

END NOTES:

[i] http://www.rivermarchforindia.org/

[ii]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heeghCQPCy4

[iii]http://www.firstpost.com/india/after-widespread-criticism-over-mumbai-river-anthem-music-video-devendra-fadnavis-skips-dahisar-river-march-4376195.html

[iv] https://scroll.in/magazine/831023/photos-in-just-one-generation-mumbai-has-forgotten-that-it-has-four-rivers, 

https://www.instagram.com/mumbai_river_photo_project/

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