Mumbai's Miracle Forest

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

On Sunday, September 2, 2013, a GreenKarbon team from Deutsche Bank and Sanctuary Asia, undertook a study trek in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park where the Director of the Park, Mr. Limaye, began  by explaining that along with the scores of other problems, this city forest was being choked by plastic being thrown by careless visitors. The group, including children, eventually picked up over 25 kg of plastic litter within a four hour trek to the Kanheri Caves. 

Naturally this trip gave rise to several issues. In my view plastic manufacture has to be made uneconomical and the largest manufacturers must be made liable for damages. We dump 100 million tons of plastic into our oceans. This is killing marine organisms and shoving toxics back into our own bodies. There is no earthly reason why plastic bags, gutka pouches, or even detergents and shampoos should be packed in plastic. My grandmother knew just one thermoset plastic at best, Bakelite, which is what her phone was made out of. And she lived a fantastic, high quality life without this scourge.

A recent trip I made to Rwanda revealed how plastics can be curbed. Heavy fines. Huge taxes. Plus, at Kigali airport customs officials confiscated the plastic bag in which my bottle of duty free single malt was delivered to me inside the plane. "You can keep the whiskey Sir... but in Rwanda no plastics are allowed." I trekked, walked, drove through the length and breadth of Rwanda and... found no plastic bags in their markets, none on their roads, none fluttering on trees. But it looks like all those plastics are now migrating to India where big business and government have combined to make plastics even more popular than our national anthem. Plastics, pesticides, oil, and coal, endocrine disrupting chemicals... all these are profiting corporates, while poisoning our kids.

It's going to take persistence. The process of letting people know that plastics are forbidden in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is now on. I would imagine it will take a year of effort, heavy fines and searches at the gate to get the message across. Right now, frankly, Mumbai does not even deserve entry into the park. Its just a picnic spot for people who neither respect its wildlife nor care that its forests are the source of the city's purest water. Tadoba in Vidharba used to be like this... a picnic spot for the people of Nagpur and Chandrapur. It took just one sensible government order, one really tough official (Shree Bhagwan) and a bunch of credible people with a public profile (including Valmik Thapar) to convey to all and sundry that Tadoba was not a picnic spot. There were howls of protest. They were ignored. Today Tadoba rivals Kanha as a premier tiger reserve.

 Only if we do something similar for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park will this problem get solved. And then not only will Mumbai be assured of pure water, but the leopard-human problem too will be reduced, Mumbai will be acting to protect against climate change, and 100% of the visitors will come away "educated" about nature, instead of the tiny 5% who today pick up litter, document wild species and fight to protect this miracle forest.