The Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit filed a first information report (FIR) against four people, including BMC engineers, last week for allegedly destroying mangroves. While the engineers were served notices, the two others – a private contractor and a driver – were arrested. The Malwani police also arrested seven other people for dumping debris in violation of Bombay high court rules. The state mangrove cell announced this on Wednesday, following a 10-day probe at two separate wetland sites in Mumbai.
The mangrove conservation unit seized an excavator machine from Charkop, Kandivali, where an FIR was filed against four people – Madhav Shinde, BMC executive engineer, and Vinod Tirekar, BMC assistant engineer, both from R-South ward; Nikul Jain, a private contractor; and Pannelal Yadav, the driver of the excavator.
In the second case, officials from the mangrove cell and the Malwani police seized four dump trucks from Chikuwadi in Malwani, Malad (West), and arrested seven people, including contractors and drivers at the site. They were released on bail the same day.
“The two BMC officers have applied for anticipatory bail at the Dindoshi court and their hearing is scheduled for December 19. The mangrove cell will oppose their bail pleas,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit. “The violators had destroyed a thick patch of mangrove trees at both locations and were dumping debris to pave the way for illegal structures.”
He added that they tracked down the violators after questioning the drivers of the vehicles. “The violations were committed on reserved forest land at both locations under the jurisdiction of the state mangrove cell. This allowed us to speed up the probe and make arrests,” said Ghodke.
BMC officals from R-South ward said they were aware about the FIRs but refused to comment.
Since the inception of the state mangrove cell in 2013, 11 such vehicles have been seized in Mumbai and surrounding areas, including the five during the recent 10-day probe.
Noting the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bombay Environment Action Group, an NGO, in 2005, the Bombay high court banned the destruction of mangroves and construction within 50m them across the state. After Vanashakti filed another PIL, court banned all reclamation of and construction on wetlands in 2014.
Despite after court’s orders, however, rampant destruction of mangroves continues. According to the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office, there have been 500 complaints about the destruction of mangroves against unidentified people in the Konkan region in the past year. There has been an enquiry into 335 of these cases. However, 165 cases remain pending with and there has not been a single conviction across the state in two years.
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 YOU SHOULD 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