HYDERABAD: Escaping from the crowded beaches of Mumbai, we decided to make our way to the outskirts of the island city, some 50 km away. Taking the fast train from CST station, we landed in Thane district and then caught another train to cross the Vashi Bridge and reach the Mumbra-Dombivili region. Getting down at Mumbra which was once a dense forested region, we climbed the denuded hills and visited many a temple including Mumbra Devi. However, this place did not sustain our interest as it is a maze of crowded and worn down buildings and shelters. Mumbra has seen an influx of people from all parts of the country and Bangladesh and continues to do so. However, the hilly terrain does provide a nice view of the sunset against the background of its peaks.
We went further on towards Dombivili East and then took an auto to reach the khadi (creek) area, about four kilometers away. With the sun setting and many youngsters arriving in hordes, I was curious to know what attracted them to this spot. However, my first glance of the creek itself turned into dismay and disbelief. On one side of the khadi, a huge crane was digging out tons and tons of black sand from the backwaters while boat after boat loaded with this illegally mined sand was making its way across the dense, dark waters to other parts of the island city. The dark, dingy steamers were bellowing out thick smoke while people demonstrating hardly any concern for their surroundings were relaxing on the concrete jetty adjoining the creek.
The Dombivili Reti Bunder, which is connected to Thane Creek and flows further into the Arabian Sea, is ever busy with small cargo steamers carrying the sand from this place to all parts of the island. With construction activity booming, there is a heavy demand for sand and so both Dombivili and the Kalyan creeks are subjected to this intense illegal mining.
Despite repeated police action, a local resident said illegal excavation continues here from morning till night. “They are run by the mafia with political support and it is impossible to eradicate this menace. Over the years, they have been disturbing the unique biodiversity with its spawning grounds for fishes and the fragile marine ecosystem,” said Shyam Sundar, a resident of the area, even as suction pumps continued to suck out mounds of sand. A popular tourist spot and an evening getaway for the local residents, the Dombivili khadi is deteriorating day by day with this constant dredging.
Being a popular tourist spot, police have deployed security on these backwaters as there have been instances of criminal elements escaping from Mumbai through this route. Local people tell you there have been hot chases by the police on these waters. In fact, this suburb seems to have seen a fair bit of action since all the way back to the 10th century, when it was a haven for smugglers.
We went further down the creek and to our delight, the scenario completely changed. It turned into a marshy area with extensive mangroves and paddy field which was a haven for a variety of birds.
One could see lot of migratory and water birds. In some other parts of the creek, waders like plovers, stilts, ducks, sandpipers, could be seen in the back waters despite the mining boats, heavy machinery and bustling residential colonies.
Although huge stretches of the creek are filthy, crowded and smelly, these water birds seemed to have adapted to these changes. Come weekends, it becomes a popular spot for many Mumbaikars who come here to watch the sunset and picnic by the Arabian Sea.