Less than a kilometre away from the state mangrove cell headquarters in Bandra, construction debris and worn out vehicles have been dumped on a one-acre wetland patch adjacent to the Mithi river.
In two separate complaints filed on Monday with the state mangrove cell, Mumbai suburban collectors’ office and Konkan divisional commissioner, non-profit organisations Vanashakti and Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan alleged that construction work was being carried out adjacent to the creek at the Kala Nagar junction in Bandra (East), located at the causeway end of the Mithi river, along the Western Express Highway.
When HT visited the site, three excavators, one drilling machine and a dumper were spotted. A board at the site read: “Desilting of a portion of the Mithi river from Mahim creek to Bandra-Sion link road in city area for the year 2015-16 and 2016-17 under Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai”. A heap of construction debris was also seen close to mangroves.
“Rampant destruction of wetlands in the face of prohibitory orders of the Bombay HC continues,” Stalin Dayanand, Vanashakti project director, said, “Considering that the site is a mere 500-metre distance from the mangrove cell office and collectors’ office, it highlights the ineffectiveness of the state machinery. There was no sign of any silt in the area, which means something else is going on the pretext of desilting.”
HT had reported in February that heaps of construction debris had been deposited near the same site, but was removed after the intervention of the state mangrove cell.
The destruction of mangroves across the state and construction within 50-metre of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005, after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by the NGO Bombay Environment Action Group. After Vanashakti filed another PIL on the protection of wetlands, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
“The Mithi river is an eco-sensitive zone and one of the major factors responsible for the floods in Mumbai on July 26, 2005. The water carrying capacity of the river is greatly reduced due to the siltation, and construction debris and worn out vehicles will be disastrous for citizens,” said Nandkumar Pawar, director, Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan.
N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said, “The site on the banks of Mithi river has not been handed over to the forest department and the jurisdiction falls under the collector’s office or the revenue department. However, we are investigating the matter.”
Officials from the collector’s office, Mumbai suburban, said they took cognisance of the complaint. “We have discussed the matter with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation officers from the ward. Our circle and revenue officers are investigating the matter and if we find any violation, action will be taken,” said Deependra Singh Kushwah, collector, Mumbai suburban.
“We have surveyed the area and observed broken vehicles and debris. We have drafted a punchnama and will carry out investigation in the matter,” said a revenue officer, Andheri.
BMC clueless about desilting work at Mahim wetland
Civic body officials from the ward were unaware about the desilting work at the site. “We have no information regarding any desilting work and this responsibility falls under the corporation’s storm water drains (SWD) department,” said Prashant Gaikwad, ward officer, H (East) ward.
What are wetlands?
Wetlands are areas 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 about mangroves
Wetlands stabilise the coastline, control erosion, provide a habitat for plant and animal species, prevent floods and filter groundwater. The also regulate climate change by storing carbon. Besides, they contribute to the country’s economy by providing fishery resources, timber, wildlife resources, medicines and agricultural products.