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Mumbai’s coastal waters go from bad to worse

It’s common knowledge that the sea off Mumbai is not the best to wade into. But what’s shocking is the rate at which the quality of the water is worsening.

A comparison of data on the quality of the water over one year shows that it has slipped on all parameters, particularly the concentration of faecal coliform.

Senior civic officials said a chief reason was untreated sewage flowing into the sea. “Our discharge standards are deteriorating,” admitted one.

The presence of faecal coliform, which can cause a number of diseases, has shot up all along the western coast. At Versova, it is up from 811 per 100ml in 2011-12 to 1,650 in 2012-13, a rise of 103%. The accepted standard is 500/100ml. At  Juhu beach that sees the maximum tourists every day, the pollutant has jumped from 914/100ml to 1,325, a 45% rise in one year.

Sandra Creado, whose Juhu bungalow is on the beach, said they can smell the sewage. “Thirty years ago, we would swim in the waters. Now one gets oil slick on the sand. People who get into the water complain of itching and skin rashes,” she said.

“A number of storm water drains originate in the slums. Often waste is directly thrown into these drains and discharged into the sea without treatment. A lot of sewage is not collected in our sewage network,” said civic sources.

Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environment Engineering Research Institute ( Neeri), said the readings also depend on the tide and the time recorded. “Sewage disposal is high in early mornings and late evenings. At Worli and Mahim, open defecation is a major problem and there are sewage outlets too. What is strange is that the recordings are high at Gateway of India and Girgaum Chowpatty, where there has been no change in land use for the past two years,” he said.

At Girgaum Chowpatty, another tourist spot, the coliform has risen from 1000 per 100ml in 2011-12 to 1455 in 2012-13, a jump of 46%. It shows that it has come down only at Malabar Hill.

Civic officials claimed land issues and environmental clearances have long held up a plan to upgrade the sewage network.

The BMC’s land for a sewage treatment plant at Worli is encumbered and the matter is in court. At Bandra, it had given 3.92 hectares to MSRDC for a casting yard for the Bandra-Worli Sea-Link and “now the government refuses to return the land”, said sources. At Versova and Malad, the BMC has obtained high court clearance to cut mangroves, but the matter is pending with the forest department, added the sources.

Only the Colaba sewage treatment plant has got all clearances and tenders have been invited. “Work is expected to start in January,” said sources. Also work on the plants at Ghatkopar and Bhandup should begin in the next six months.

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