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BMC invites bids for removal of illegal cycle track from Powai lake, 10-km track opposed by environmentalists was pet project of Aaditya Thackeray

"The illegal cycle track built on the banks of Powai lake is going to be removed. Aditya Thackray should pay back Rs 66 lakhs which is taxpayers' money. Baap ki Mumbai nahi hai..Yaad rakhna", BJP leader Nitesh Rane tweeted.

On Tuesday, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation issued a tender notice confirming the removal of illegal cycle tracks and other existing work from the banks of Powai Lake and the restoration of the said area to its original position in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The 10 km long cycle track project made using the latest ‘Gabion technology’ was undertaken by the BMC during the reigns of the MVA government headed by CM Uddhav Thackeray. The project had massive support from the then Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray, as it was his pet project.

The news was confirmed by Maharashtra BJP leader Nitesh Rane who said that taxpayers hard earned money (Rs 66 lakhs) was used by the MVA government to execute this ‘childish act’. “The illegal cycle track built on the banks of Powai lake is going to be removed. Aditya Thackray should pay back Rs 66 lakhs which is taxpayers’ money. Baap ki Mumbai nahi hai..Yaad rakna,” he tweeted.

This is nine months after the Bombay High Court held that work on the cycling track around Powai Lake was illegal and directed the civic body to immediately remove all constructions carried out so far and restore the reclaimed portions. On May 6, 2022, the Bombay High Court said that the construction of the cycling and jogging track around the lake violated the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules.

The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice VG Bisht was hearing the public interest litigations (PILs) filed by IIT students Omkar Supekar and Abhishek Tripathi through advocate Rajmani Varma and NGO Vanashakti on April 25, challenging the construction of the track.

The petitioners had argued that building the 10-km cycling route would negatively affect the lake’s indigenous Indian marsh crocodiles’ ability to maintain their natural environment. Through attorney Manoj Shirsat, activist Zoru Bathena had also submitted an intervention application, arguing that there was no need for a separate bicycle path because the IITians already used a six-kilometer route that runs beside the lake. Activists, environmentalists, and locals all disagreed with the plan.

The IITians further complained that the track would disturb the lake’s natural flora and animals and ruin the wetland’s ecology. The petitioners said that the Supreme Court had issued a ruling in 2009 emphasizing the protection of wetlands, and they were asking for the BMC to follow that ruling. Furthermore, the PIL requested documentation proving the lake had been declared unnoticeable, allowing the reclamation of the environmentally vulnerable Powai wetland.

The Powai Lake, located in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs, is regarded as a wetland. It was built in 1891. Its water is utilized for industrial purposes only because it was deemed unsuitable for human consumption. According to the Central Institute of Fisheries Education, the lake has a catchment area of 6.61 square kilometers and a water spread area of 210 hectares. As part of its ambition to establish bicycle tracks across the city, the BMC had suggested constructing a 10-km track around Powai Lake in 2021. The then-state Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray also extended support to this proposal.

Several locals and environmentalists had been opposing the project since the beginning. They said that the project would cause harm to the natural habitat of the crocodiles residing in the lake. In November 2021, around 670 people including green activists and environmentalists signed a letter seeking the scraping of the cycle track through Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Powai lake, and around Virar lake. The letter was then sent to the then CM Uddhav Thackeray’s office but it was not acknowledged. The environmentalists also did not receive any response from the CM’s office regarding the issue.

Notably, several environmentalists staged a protest demanding the protection of the lake and the removal of the illegal cycle track project.

The Aam Aadmi Party had also staged a protest calling Aaditya Thackeray childish. The AAP workers said that Thackeray wanted to convert the city into his playground. ‘When he wants penguins, he gets penguins, when he wants a zoo in the middle of Aarey, he gets and zoo, and now, he wants a cycle track around the fragile area between Powai and Virar lakes. Mumbai is not Thackeray’s private ground for experiments,” Sumitra Shrivastava, AAP Mumbai working president had said then.

However, the BMC has recently issued a tender notice confirming the removal of illegal cycle tracks and other existing work from the banks of Powai Lake and the restoration of the said area to its original position in Mumbai.

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