A month-and-a-half after the state mangrove cell identified 66 bungalow owners, including comedian Kapil Sharma, with illegal extensions to their homes at Versova, the district collector will issue notices to 53 bungalow owners for mangrove destruction and illegal extensions.
The home owners along the 1-km stretch near Janki Devi Public School, Andheri (West), starting from Sharma’s bungalow, will be given two weeks to respond, after which the collector will initiate action, including demolition if responses are unsatisfactory.
Mumbai suburban collector Deependra Singh Kushwa confirmed that 53 bungalows violated the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and destroyed mangroves through debris dumping, which is also a violation of Bombay high court rules. “We are already in the process of issuing notices to individual home owners starting Monday and the process will be completed very soon,” said Kushwa. “Our circle, revenue and sub-divisional officers have been directed to follow up with bungalow owners for a timely response.”
Mangroves protect the city from coastal inundation and harbour a variety of flora and fauna.
The violation in this area first came to light in September when the mangrove cell had submitted a report to the Mumbai suburban collector’s office, regarding destruction of mangroves by Sharma. On September 18, the Versova police registered a first information report (FIR) against Sharma under the violation of Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Noting a PIL filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO in Mumbai — in 2005, the Bombay high court banned the destruction of statewide mangroves and construction within 50m of them. After Vanashakti filed another PIL, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
HT had first reported in November that the mangrove cell submitted a report highlighting 66 of 73 bungalows having illegal extensions less than 50m away from thick mangrove cover. Taking cognisance of the report, Kushwa instructed the mangrove cell to carry out another investigation at the site and simultaneously directed his own officials to do the same. On November 24, his office issued notices to the civic body and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada). “The BMC has shared only half the information regarding illegal extensions. They need to inform us about the number of bungalows that violated HC orders before 2005,” said Kushwa. “Another reminder has been sent to Mhada. If there is a violation from their end action will be taken.”
Environmentalists welcomed the move. “Proactive steps are being taken by all authorities to safeguard the environment unlike the previous government. Illegal extensions need to be removed and mangroves restored,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, NGO Watchdog Foundation. “It is good that the state machinery has woken up, but whether these steps will translate into concrete deterrence on ground still has to be seen,” said Stalin Dayanand, project director, NGO Vanashakti.