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Mangrove patch drying out at BKC, NGOs blame MMRDA’s apathy

mumbai Updated: Sep 21, 2016 23:54 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
BKC mangrove patch

The construction wall along Mithi river that blocks access to sea water for mangroves in Mumbai.(Pratik Chorge/ HT)

The retaining wall built along the Mithi River at Bandra-Kurla-Complex, Bandra (East) by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA), is killing mangrove trees, environmentalists have said.

Members of non-profit organisation Watchdog Foundation filed a complaint with MMRDA on Tuesday alleging that the retaining wall had completely blocked an inlet carrying sea water to the mangrove patch located near a government housing colony at BKC.

“We have procured satellite images from 2007 that showed the original free flow as opposed to images from 2010 that clearly show a drop in mangrove cover in the area,” said Godfrey Pimenta, a trustee. “With a number of illegal shanties and debris dumped at the location, the cover is thinning. Immediate action needs to be taken to allow free flow of tidal water across the patch.”

According to state mangrove cell officials, tidal water is essential for the nourishment of mangrove trees.

“During high tide, sea water submerges mangroves partially and during low tide, when the water recedes, salt from it is absorbed by the trees as nutrients and prevents the root system from drying up,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, state mangrove cell. “Mangroves require regular tidal flushing to survive.”

Intended to protect adjacent areas along the Mithi River from flooding, especially after the 2005 deluge, the Mithi River Development and Protection Authority under MMRDA, had constructed a retaining wall in 2009 after receiving permission from the Union environment ministry, converting the river into a canal.

In 2013, Janak Dafatri, from Jalbiradri, along with NGO Vanashakti, had filed an application at the National Green Tribunal, western bench in Pune against the state machinery for their construction work that were hampering the mangroves.

The case went on for two years and in 2015, Justice VR Kingaonkar (judicial member) and Dr Ajay A Deshpande (expert member) had different opinions as a part of their judgment on whether the wall should remain. The case was passed to the principal Tribunal bench in Delhi in January this year for further adjudication.

After prolonged hearings, the Tribunal in May 2016 slapped a fine of Rs25 lakh on MMRDA as environmental compensation. “The state body shall compute environmental, ecological and other damage caused by the project and the remedial steps required to be taken in that direction,” read the order. The retaining wall, however, still remains.

Earlier this week, MMRDA filed a writ petition challenging the Tribunal order in the Bombay high court.

The matter is up for hearing on Thursday, September 22.

AUTHORITIES SPEAK

While officials from MMRDA refused to comment on the matter, SC Deshpande, project director and member secretary, Mithi River Development and Protection Authority, said, “Since there is a petition in Bombay high court, the matter is sub-judice and it will not be right for me to comment.”

ENVIRONMENTALISTS SPEAK

“MMRDA has consistently shown scant regard for environment laws and clearances. Under the guise of development, they are needlessly destroying wetlands and ecologically important areas. Their only interest in Mithi is the creation of land for real estate on the river flood plains,” said Stalin Dayanand, project director, NGO Vanashakti.

The Law

The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005, after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Bombay Environment Action Group, an NGO. In 2014, after Vanashakti filed another PIL on the protection of wetlands, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands.

What are wetlands?

A wetland – natural and manmade – is a piece of land inundated by water either seasonally or perennially. In coastal cities such as Mumbai, they are a vital coastal ecosystem that harbour marine life, migratory birds and act as natural buffers against floods and extreme weather events.

Why you should care?

Mangroves act as a buffer zone between land and sea, protecting the land from erosion

Mangroves absorb the impact of cyclones

They are a breeding ground for a variety of marine animals

Mangroves also absorb carbon dioxide from the air, like other forests