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In Mumbai: 500 vehicles parked within wetlands, district collectorate starts probe

mumbai Updated: Nov 14, 2016 10:44 IST
Badri Chatterjee
mumbai's mangroves

The vehicles parked in the wetlands, in clear violation of the high court orders.(HT Photo)

The district collectorate has initiated investigation into an alleged destruction of mangroves, reclamation and levelling of wetlands to make way for a private parking area for nearly 500 vehicles at Madh, Malad (West).

If confirmed, this will be the third such violation this year, where wetlands are being converted into parking lots. The move was implemented after city-based environmentalists highlighted it.

Non-profit organisation Watchdog Foundation filed complaints with the district collectorate and the state mangrove cell on Saturday, citing large scale violation of Bombay high court (HC) orders, with debris being dumped at the site and the presence of a ready-mix-concrete (RMC) plant that causes damage to the existing mangrove trees along with several cabs (see pic) parked amidst the wetlands near Resort Hotel, close to Aksa beach on Madh-Marwe road.

“The authorities have turned a blind eye towards the protection of wetlands in Mumbai and surrounding areas. They are not frequenting deeper into such areas to take stock of the situation,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation. “The wetlands are being damaged as debris is being dumped just adjacent to the parking plot and the cement dust from the RMC plant will settle on the mangroves and destroy the trees.”

Officials from the district collectorate said that circle officers had visited the site, begun investigations and a report would be submitted to them by Tuesday. “Prima facie, the images submitted by the complainant shows a clear violation. We will be confirming it after we receive a response from our field officers,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, Mumbai suburban collector.

Noting the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO in the city — in 2005, the HC banned the destruction of state-wide mangroves and constructions within a 50-m of radius around them. After Vanashakti filed another PIL, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.

Pimenta added that not only had the unidentified persons violated the order but there are several rules under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 that had been breached. “We demand stringent action against the offenders who are killing off the city’s mangroves gradually,” he said.

State mangrove cell officials said that the land fell under the jurisdiction of the district collectorate and they could not take action in the matter.

According to the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office, there have been 500 complaints on the destruction of mangroves against unidentified persons in the Konkan region in the past one year, of which there has been an enquiry in 335 cases, which have been finalised. However, 165 cases are still pending with ongoing enquiry and not a single conviction.

Past cases where wetlands were converted into parking lots

September 3, 2016: 57 private buses were found illegally parked on the wetlands along the link road at Borivli (West). Following as site visit by the district collectorate, mangrove cell and civic body, all parties concurred that there had been a violation. The collectorate instructed ward officers from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) R-North ward to remove the buses from the site and barricade the area to stop more buses from entering.

Status: Buses removed but mangroves not restored. No arrests made.

May 6, 2016 - 100 residents from Saraswati Complex, Dahisar (East) along with the local corporator, identified 25 buses illegally parked on six-acre wetland surrounded by mangroves. A day later, the civic body took cognisance of the complaints and removed the buses.

Status: Lokayuktas from the state government visited the site and identified BMC’s inaction. Buses were removed. No arrests made.

February 4, 2016 - More than 300 buses parked in reclaimed wetlands along Link Road, Dahisar (West) were removed by a joint action undertaken by the civic body and district collector.

Status: Buses removed. Mangroves not restored. No arrests made.

November 2015 - A wetland patch between a railway line and thick mangroves near Sarawasti Complex in Dahisar (East) had been turned into a parking area for tourist buses. The members of New Link Road Residents’ Forum (NLRRF) have been crying foul over the violation and filed several complaints with the police, revenue department and the civic body.

Status: No action has been taken

2013 - Close to the slum at Ganpat Patil Nagar in Dahisar Link Road, that is settled on a CRZ area, the wetland abutting the road had been reclaimed and converted into a parking lot for private tourist vehicles. The New Link Road Residents’ Forum (NLRRF) had filed a complaint with the civic body, revenue department and the police about the 17-acre land being reclaimed in Dahisar after destroying mangroves.

Status: Buses removed but no arrests were made.

WHAT ARE WETLANDS

Wetlands are terrestrial areas that are either temporarily or permanently covered with 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

Wetlands stabilise the coastline, control erosion and provide a habitat for plant and animal species, prevent floods and purify groundwater. The also regulate climate change by storing carbon. Besides, they also contribute to the country’s economy by providing fishery resources, timber, wildlife resources, medicines and agricultural products.