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HindustanTimes Mon,28 Jul 2014

Mumbai's wetlands continue to be threatened

Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, February 26, 2014
First Published: 12:55 IST(26/2/2014) | Last Updated: 12:58 IST(26/2/2014)

Wetlands across the city continue to be threatened, even four months after the Bombay high court directed civic authorities to ensure that no reclamation or construction be allowed in wetlands across the state.

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Early this month, petitioners who have approached the court alleging lax implementation of wetland rules, submitted a list of locations where mangrove destruction was continuing even after the HC directive.

According to environmentalists, violations continue to take place every day and the offender is never booked since the case is registered against an unknown person. While the forest department can act on the violations that are on forest land, the problem arises when the destruction is on wetlands or coastal regulation zone on private territory.

"All the police can do is to accept complaints from citizens and forward it to the tehsildar who after a site inspection must file a first information report (FIR)," said Harish Pandey of the New Link Road Residents Forum. "The police cannot file suo moto FIR, and if they do so it may not sustain in the court."

Non-government organisation Vanashakti has filed a public interest litigation stating that the Wetland Rules 2010 was not being implemented in Maharashtra. The PIL stated that the wetland atlas prepared by the Indian Scientific Research Organisation is not recognised by the Maharashtra government.

Early this month, petitioners submitted a list of locations where mangrove destruction was continuing after the HC directive. At present, chief conservator  of the mangrove cell N Vasudevan is inspecting the sites and will submit a report to the HC. Environmentalist said the collectorate "willfully" send the circle office to inspect destruction following which he registers A FIR which is invalid. As per rules, FIR can be filed by not less than the rank of a gazetted officer.

"The law needs to be amended so that police can file a FIR under the Environment Protection Act. The state government has yet to transfer mangroves and salt marshes on mangrove land in Thane district and Navi Mumbai to the forest department, which is where wetland destruction is taking place," said Stalin D, director project, Vanashakti, a non-government organisation.

Vanashakti has filed a public interest litigation stating that the Wetland Rules 2010 was not being implemented in Maharashtra. The PIL stated that the wetland atlas prepared by the Indian Scientific Research Organisation is not recognized by the Maharashtra government.

What are wetlands
Wetlands are areas of land that are either temporarily or permanently covered by water depending on the season variability. Natural wetlands comprise creeks, estuaries, marshes, riverbanks, seashores, backwaters, coral reefs. Manmade lakes, saltpans, reservoirs, abandoned quarries and dams are also considered as wetlands.

Why you should care
Wetlands stabilize the coastline, control erosion and provide habitat for plant and animal species, prevent floods and purify groundwater. The also regulate climate change by storing carbon. Besides, they also contribute to the country's economy by providing fishery resources, timber, wildlife resources, medicines and agricultural products.


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