Malad residents and environmentalists from the city have alleged that the Indian Navy Station (INS) Hamla, near Nau Sena Bagh, Malad (West), is in the process of reclaiming a pond located within the wetlands near Marve by pumping out water to dry the water body.
Residents said that the pump was installed last Sunday. They alleged that the Navy officials were drawing out the water using a suction hose. “We have observed naval personnel on Tuesday evening, in uniform, monitoring the pump and using camouflage techniques such as covering the pipes with white sheets to deliberately dry out the water body,” said Pradip D’Lima, a resident, adding that parts of the pond have already been leveled after the navy’s contractor dumped debris at the site.
The pumping out of water continued through the night. On Wednesday morning, at 6.45 am, it was noted that only 10% of the pond’s water level remains, i.e. 90% has been drawn out, said residents.
HT had reported on October 29 that a first information report (FIR) was filed against the contractors employed by the Navy after the district collectorate took cognisance of the residents’ complaints. “While debris dumping was stopped, INS Hamla has started using devious methods to destroy the pond and its surrounding wetland,” said D’Lima.
The allegations have been made a part of an affidavit filed in the Bombay high court (HC) a week ago by environmentalists from NGOs including Vanashakti, New Link Road Residents’ Forum (NLRRF) and residents of the area. “We filed an affidavit citing the violation and incorporated studies that have found the presence of large biodiversity of birds, whose habitat will be destroyed if the reclamation continues,” said the lawyer representing the environmentalists. “The court needs to direct the recently constituted wetland preservation committee to look into the matter.”
Noting the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO in Mumbai — in 2005, the HC banned the destruction of state-wide mangroves and construction within 50m of them. After Vanashakti filed another PIL, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
The affidavit incorporated a study carried out this August by NGO Greenline that identified the pond as ‘Nausena Baug Lake’. “This freshwater lake is one of the major wetlands. It acts as a support system for the mangroves. It is identified in the 2009 report by World Wildlife Fund-India as a medium-sized lake in Aksa, which is being used for disposal of garbage and sewage,” read the report that identified 20 bird species, which included a number of protected migratory wetland birds.
Environmentalists said the navy station had been dumping garbage, including non-biodegradable material, like thermocol and polystyrene packing from their establishment, some of which is still floating on the water body’s surface. “It is unfortunate that a respected organisation like the Navy is disregarding a HC order and the law of the land. There has already been large-scale mangrove destruction in the area. We request the Navy to desist from tampering with the ecological character of the pond,” said Stalin Dayanand, project director, Vanashakti.
Harish Pandey, secretary, NLRRF, said, “Laws are the same for everyone and just under the protection of being defence employees, the Navy cannot get away with environmental destruction. The inaction by authorities also highlights that environment is not a priority and we will continue to struggle with pollution problems in mega cities for this very reason.”
NGO Watchdog Foundation in a complaint to the civic body and district collectorate presented the revised draft development plan 2034, a city survey map from 1890 and the 1937 revenue map, all of which identified the property as a lake.
WHAT THE NAVY HAS TO SAY
“The allegations against us have shifted from a tank to a pond and now a lake, which has suddenly become an important bird area. There needs to be some credibility in the number of allegations. We stick to our stand that the land belongs to the Navy and we received complaints about mosquito breeding from the municipal authority. We will do what is necessary to ensure that the area does not pose any health hazards, which has been brought to our notice,” said Commander Sridhar Warrier, chief public relations officer of the Southern Naval Command.
“We have received a number of complaints in the matter and directed the Navy twice this year to stop any kind of debris dumping. The Navy has responded positively and stopped the violations. However, the pond matter is currently under investigation. We will reach out to the naval establishment if there is a violation,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, Mumbai suburban collector.
WHAT ARE WETLANDS?
Wetlands are areas of land that are either temporarily or permanently covered by water, depending on the season
Natural wetlands comprise creeks, estuaries, marshes, riverbanks, seashores, backwaters and coral reefs
Man-made lakes, saltpans, reservoirs, abandoned quarries and dams are also considered wetlands
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
BIRDS SPOTTED AT ‘NAUSENA BAUG LAKE’
Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha)
Lesser Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna javanica)
Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus)
Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Bronze-winged jacana (Metopidius indicus)
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Little Blue Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis)
Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
(Source: Note on preliminary observations about the pond near Nausena Bagh, Madh Marwe Road, a study by NGO Greenline)