Comedian-actor Kapil Sharma and other residents of SV Road, Andheri (West), could be booked for destroying Versova mangroves, said district collectorate officials on Saturday.
HT had reported on September 13 that the mangrove cell confirmed that there had been a violation by 50-60 bungalow and single-storied house owners and that they had encroached 10m into wetlands over the past three years, which is a violation of a Bombay high court order from 2005.
On September 10, city-based activists filed complaints against Kapil Sharma and other residents for violating environmental laws through the dumping of debris and the destruction of mangroves near Jankidevi Public School Road, SV Patel Nagar.
On Saturday, officials from the district collectorate said the matter was being investigated by the sub-divisional magistrate and there were chances of an FIR against either the bungalow owners or the land owner.
“After receiving details from the state mangrove cell on Saturday morning, we observed that there was a clear violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 through the destruction of mangroves at the site,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, collector, Mumbai suburban. “The case has been transferred to sub-divisional magistrate, western suburbs, who will be investigating the case. There are chances of an FIR against either Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) or residents of the area, depending on who committed the violation.”
Noting the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group — a city-based NGO — in 2005, the Bombay high court banned the destruction of mangroves across the state and construction within 50m of them. After NGO Vanashakti filed another PIL, the high court banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
Citing the violation, officials from the state mangrove cell said nearly 50 to 60 houses had encroached on wetlands along a 400m stretch . “While some houses have made extensions to existing properties, others have either dumped garbage or treated the area as their backyard,” said Makarand Ghotke, assistant conservator of forests, state mangrove cell. He added that the area was surveyed with the help of pre-existing satellite maps, which showed that mangroves existed up till a few years ago.
“The action should have been carried out long before. It is strange that the authorities need citizens to complain before identifying an environmental violation that was visible long before the probe had been initiated,” said Ashoke Pandit, citizen-activist and filmmaker.
What led to the investigation?
On Friday, Kapil Sharma had complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter about alleged corruption in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Following this, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, on Friday promised to take strict action. BMC officials asked Sharma to reveal the names of the corrupt officials. However, the tweet backfired when BMC officials said there was a violation by the comedian.
On July 16, the BMC submitted a notification to Sharma highlighting an unauthorised horizontal extension to his ground-plus-two bungalows. He was asked to stop work within 24 hours of receiving the notice. “If you fail to stop execution of work or fail to produce permission within 24 hours, without any further notice, said building or work will be pulled down,” the BMC notice read. On August 4, the BMC demolished parts of the extensions.
What you need to know about mangroves
Currently, Mumbai has 5,800 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover – 4,000 ha on government-owned land and 1800 ha in private areas. Navi Mumbai and the eastern end of the Thane creek have a total cover of 1471 ha and 1500 ha was recorded at the western bank of Thane creek.
What are wetlands?
A wetland – natural and manmade – is a piece of land inundated by water either seasonally or perennially. In coastal cities such as Mumbai they are vital coastal ecosystems that harbour marine life, migratory birds and act as natural buffers against floods and tsunami during extreme weather events.
Why you should care?
Mangroves act as a buffer zone between land and sea, protecting the land from erosion
They absorb the impact of cyclones.
They are a breeding ground for a variety of marine animals.
They absorb carbon dioxide, making the air cleaner to breathe.