Citing wetland reclamation in violation of Bombay high court (HC) rules, the district collectorate cracked the whip on the Indian Navy Station (INS) Hamla, Malad (West) by sending a stop-work notice last week to the contractor employed at the site.
The move comes a month after Hindustan Times reported that environmentalists had alleged that a navy station was responsible for the destruction of over 400 mangrove trees at a 10-acre patch through debris dumping, diagonally opposite the INS Hamla building.
Noting the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by 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 HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
The state mangrove cell said the area reclaimed by the Indian Navy falls in less than 50m distance from the mangrove cover. “The reclamation is in violation of Bombay HC rules. We drafted a report highlighting the violation to the collector’s office. The cell cannot take action as it is a private land,” said an official.
The Mumbai suburban collectors’ office said that after they received a punchnama filed by the state mangrove cell, the matter was investigated and a stop-work notice was sent to the Navy station on Friday.
“We have strict instructions to ban all construction activities within 50m of the mangrove cover close to INS Hamla. A circle officer and a security guard have been stationed at the site and if any work is observed, machines will be confiscated,” said Navnath Jare, sub-divisional officer, western suburbs.
INS Hamla officials also confirmed that no work was being carried out at the site. “There was no construction and no mangrove trees were destroyed at the site. However, after the directives from the collectorate, we have stopped work and the contactor’s employment has been terminated,” said Commander Sridhar Warrier, chief public relations officer of the Southern Naval Command. “The Navy had carried out leveling at the area owing to large scale encroachments within wetlands close to the building, which was a major security concern.”
Meanwhile, residents of the area said that excavators and drilling machines were still stationed at the site. “The Navy does not have any work permit but machines have not been removed. The wetland has already been reclaimed and we fear it might lead to flooding over the next two months,” said Pradip D’Lima, resident.
Environmentalists said that the site needed to be restored to its original status. “We can only request the Navy to set an example in conservation rather than destruction. We hope the commanding officer will take the onus to restore the mangroves at site as massive destruction has already taken place,” said Stalin Dayanand, project director, Vanashakti.
Freshwater pond reclaimed by Navy too: Residents
Malad (West) residents alleged that the Indian Navy Station (INS) Hamla has reclaimed a pond close to the Navy building through illegal debris dumping.
“Dumpers have been dumping debris daily at the site day and night. After writing several letters to officers of the Naval Command concerned, there have been hardly any response as to why the environment was bearing the brunt for national security concerns,” said Brig (Retd) Flavian J D’Lima, 83, resident, adding that the contractor employed by the Navy had built barricades around the pond using tin sheets.
Officers from INS Hamla said that they had only carried out the work after a school in the area had filed a complaint that the pond was becoming a mosquito-breeding site. “The pond falls under the defence land and the mosquitoes from the area are causing health issues for students. We also carried out a test to check whether the mosquitoes were actually breeding there and on getting a confirmation we filled up those parts of the pond,” said commander Sridhar Warrier, chief public relations officer of the Southern Naval Command.