Lit cigarettes disposed of at a wetland near the Airoli toll plaza could have sparked the massive fire that engulfed the patch on Thursday, said Maharashtra mangrove cell officials.
“The fire was massive, but was doused with the help of a fire truck. We have increased patrolling in the area to nab people who smoke here. While the wetland was partially destroyed, no mangrove trees burned down,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forests, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit.
Residents, however, maintained that a five-acre mangrove patch had been destroyed. Citizen activist group Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) filed a complaint with the Maharashtra mangrove cell.
“A five-acre mangrove patch was fully burnt. We visited the site but couldn’t assess the extent of the damage. Dry grass caught fire in the area around the mangroves. The fire quickly spread to the forest and damaged the trees,” said Nandkumar Pawar, director, SEAP. “It was unclear whether the grass was intentionally set on fire. If any culprits are identified, action needs to be taken against them.”
- Mangroves act as a buffer zone between the 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, making air cleaner to breathe.
Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants that protect the Mumbai’s coastline from inundation. In 2005, the Bombay high court banned the destruction of mangrove forests across the state, and construction within 50m of mangrove areas. In 2014, the court banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands. A violation of this law amounts to an offence under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
So far, as many as 18 cases of mangrove destruction have taken place on private land every month this year. Over the past four years, Mumbai witnessed an average of eight cases a month in private areas. A report from the suburban collector’s office on mangrove destruction on private land revealed 115 cases between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017. Of these, 74 cases were recorded between January and April this year and 21 cases were filed. However, not a single person has been arrested or convicted yet.