A day after the state mangrove cell identified 66 bungalow owners who illegally extended their homes in protected mangroves at Versova, the district collector issued notices to the municipal corporation and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) on Thursday.
The agencies have been asked to explain whether they were aware about the environmental violations committed by the house owners, or not. “We have asked both the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which is responsible for issuing permissions for construction of any structure, and MHADA, the land owner, whether either gave prior approvals to 66 bungalow owners for illegal extensions,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, Mumbai suburban collector. “If they have given permissions, they will also be held responsible along with the bungalow owners for the violation,” he said.
HT had reported on November 24 that after the officer investigating the illegal extension by actor Kapil Sharma of his office by destroying mangroves, Makarand Ghodke, was reinstated, he submitted a report to the state mangrove cell and the district collectorate on Wednesday, identifying 66 bungalow owners violating the Environment Protection Act by encroaching on mangrove land along the 1-km stretch near Sharma’s bungalow where the violation was first observed in September.
While hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO in Mumbai — in 2005, the Bombay High Court banned the destruction of mangroves and construction within 50m of the forests. After an environmental NGO Vanashakti filed another PIL, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
Kushwa added that both BMC and MHADA have 10 days to submit their replies. “Our circle officers also visited the site to take exact measurements for violations. Once all these procedures are complete, the revenue official will be reaching out to the Mumbai police,” he said.
How it happened?
The violation in this area first came to light in September when the mangrove cell had submitted a report to the Mumbai suburban collectors’ office, regarding destruction of mangroves by Sharma. On September 18, the Andheri tehsildar (revenue official) ensured that a first information report (FIR) was filed against Sharma by the Versova police in violation of Environment Protection Act, 1986. While no arrests were made, the investigation opened up a can of worms with another 66 of 73 bungalow owners committing the similar violations
“Bungalow owners violated HC orders and the Environment Protection Act, 1986, by either dumping debris to level the land near mangroves, some made gardens, installed benches and others are either constructing extensions to their bungalows or have left construction material,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, mangrove protection unit, state mangrove cell, adding that mangrove trees were also destroyed to accommodate the extensions.
What are mangroves?
Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants, trees, shrubs or ground fern of tropical and subtropical intertidal regions of the world. The specific regions where these plants occur are termed as ‘mangrove ecosystem’. These are highly productive but extremely sensitive and fragile. Besides mangroves, the ecosystem also harbours other plant and animal species.
Why should you care?
Wetlands stabilise the coastline, control erosion and provide a habitat conducive for plant and animal species; they prevent floods and filter groundwater
Like other forests, mangroves absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in their biomass
Mangrove forests are valuable for fisheries because they are a spawning ground for marine species
These forests are a vibrant ecosystem that harbour animal life and migratory birds
They are also natural buffers against cyclones and tsunamis, absorbing the brunt of the force of waves