Published: 18th October 2021
These eco-activists from Mumbai are getting creative in their fight to save the city's 130-year-old Powai lake
A member of the Bombay High Court-appointed Wetlands Grievance Redressal Committee, Stalin D, said in a letter to authorities last month that crocodiles may be forced to enter the IIT area
What are you willing to do for a cause you believe in? These young dissenters in Mumbai have found their answer in the 36-km-long cycling track that the city has planned out of which about 1.5 km is being constructed along the boundary of the Powai lake — a habitat for some protected species. There is another reason that's got them involved in this matter; the lake is in close proximity to IIT Bombay and many believe the cycling track project may end up forcing crocodiles out of their habitat and into the institute's limits. The construction began more than a month ago and with it began this youth-led environmental group's weekend protests, complete with crocodile masks, music and bicycle motocross stunts.
Shahbaz alias Baaz Khan (25) has been performing cycle stunts at the site to raise awareness among the masses. He said, "The reason why I joined in was that I could only see suffering due to this project. Animals will suffer, the environment will suffer. What is the point of something if it causes suffering?" Baaz is a part of the protest led by a youth environmental group, Muse Foundation, whose founder, Nishant Bangera, believes protests through means of art and creativity help relay the message to a larger public. Bangera said, "Youngsters are behind the planning of a lot of the protest. We have creative ways to get our voice heard if they (government) are not willing to initiate a dialogue."
But creativity is not limited to youngsters here — even children are in on it. In an Instagram post by Muse Foundation, a child is seen all dressed up in a crocodile costume, standing beside a set of young musicians with a placard that reads, "Mumbai's crocodiles are our pride. Brihanmumbai Corporation (BMC) you're on the wrong side."
Bangera said that the last protest garnered about 50 people and these protests include the likes of youngsters like Ankit Dave, an MTech student who gives his family the slip every weekend for the cause. He said, "I help as much as I can with the ongoing protests. My family knows that it is the right thing to do but they worry this will impact my academics." Ankit hopes that the creativity will attract more crowds to a point that the authorities initiate a dialogue.
But what are the authorities saying? The city corporation decided last week to set up a committee to ensure no ecological damage occurs. However, this hasn't sailed well with the group as the construction continues. Bangera said, "If a committee is being set up, then the construction needs to stop because the destruction is irreversible," he said.
Apart from this, the critics have pointed out that there has been no public hearing or environmental clearances before the project hit the ground. To this, the BMC said that the Powai lake is a man-made corporation land which was built in 1891. Further, the BMC stated that the project has been approved by the appropriate authorities and that it does not qualify for Environmental Clearance by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.
Bangera said that the city would do good if independent cycle lanes are created on existing roads instead of constructing a new track at the risk of human-animal conflict. As of now, it looks like the corporation has no plans of stopping the work, resulting in a Catch-22 situation as the eco-activists have no plans of giving up either. There was another protest held on October 17 where protesters were seen with crocodiles painted on their foreheads. "More creative ways to protest are in the pipeline," Bangera said. "A photo series will soon be out where people with crocodile facemasks would be pictured at the city's iconic landmarks," he added.