A five-acre wetland patch along the Thane-Nashik highway, next to Kharegaon creek, has been destroyed through the dumping of debris by unidentified people on Wednesday.
Local residents filed complaints with the Thane collector, Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation and the state mangrove cell identifying the violation that destroyed mangrove trees as well. The Thane collector confirmed that there was a violation and told HT that he instructed his officers to file a first-information-report (FIR) against unidentified people and asked the civic body to remove the debris within this week.
Even after several Bombay High Court (HC) orders prohibited construction within wetlands, rampant destruction of mangrove trees continues. Wetlands stabilise the coastline, control erosion and provide a habitat conducive for plant and animal species; they prevent floods and filter groundwater.
“The reclamation of wetland and the mangroves areas is taking place at Anjur Diwa, close to the Kharegaon creek. The entire area from Kharegaon Creek Bridge to Dapoda, on either side of the highway, has been reclaimed and through debris dumping, which is currently underway,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, NGO Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan. “It is a gross violation of coastal regulation zone norms and it is destroying the ecologically sensitive area. The location is now susceptible to flooding during the monsoon season.”
A 2014 Bombay HC order banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in Maharashtra based on public-interest-litigation filed by NGO Vanashakti on the protection of wetlands. Additionally, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, destruction of wetlands is a violation and the act leads to imprisonment up of five years along with a minimum penalty of Rs 25,000 depending on the violation.
Citing the violation, the Thane collector directed his sub-divisional magistrate and sub-divisional officer to visit the site, file an official report and direct the local police to file an FIR. “The number of wetland destruction cases is increasing in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. We will ensure that these violators are taken to task. The municipal corporation has been instructed to remove the debris and restore the wetlands,” said Mahendra Kalyankar, Thane collector. “There is a need for the mangrove cell and the police to increase patrolling in such areas to highlight these violations.”
Officials from the state mangrove cell that the area belonged to the revenue department and has not been notified as reserved forests yet. “This wetland patch is home to a lot of migratory birds. We have been telling the state to hand these areas over to us for over three years now to increase their protection status. But this has not happened,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “We will assist the revenue department in restoring the site.”
HC orders that boosted mangrove conservation
January 2016: Bombay high court bench of Justices V M Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere stated that the wetlands have to be strictly protected… ‘rampant destruction is continuing to take place in all such areas as mentioned in the contempt petition’.
March 2014: A division bench of Justices VM Kanade and Justice Anil Menon imposed an interim ban on reclamation and construction in wetland areas across Maharashtra.
December 2013: The state government, following directives issued by the high court, asked to all civic bodies to enforce a ban on reclamation or construction on wetlands.
WHAT ARE WETLANDS?
Wetlands are areas of land that are either temporarily or permanently covered by 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 stabilize the coastline, control erosion and provide 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.