Local residents, who celebrated Mahashivratri and threw garbage last week on a land in Navi Mumbai, where a patch of mangroves had allegedly been destroyed recently, were made to clean it up by the state mangrove cell. Also, they said the locals had permission and they will not take any action against them. The celebrations were attended by Navi Mumbai mayor Sudhakar Sonawane.
HT had reported on February 22 that an NGO had complained about destruction of mangroves in Nerul. On February 24, around 50 people from the Koli community were seen celebrating a festival at the site, a violation of Bombay HC rules that forbid destruction of wetland vegetation.
On Monday, state mangrove cell officers ensured locals cleaned up the area. “The locals have been celebrating Mahashivratri at this site for 90 years. A verbal permission had been given by our range forest officer but since the RFO was on leave, the department was not aware of it,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit. “We are not taking any action against the locals as the festival is celebrated only once a year and no mangroves were destroyed.”
According to state mangrove cell, 1,471 hectare of mangroves falls under government owned land in Navi Mumbai, which are identified as protected forest areas. Noting the PIL filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO in Mumbai — in 2005, the Bombay HC had 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.
“We intend to declare this area as ‘reserved’ forest but as of now it is under the ‘protected’ status and we cannot take away the rights of the locals,” said Ghodke.
Meanwhile, environmentalists also supported the locals since mangroves had not been destroyed and the site restored. “An old temple called the Brahman Dev Mandir exists at the site for many years and the walkway is cleared of shrubs, weeds and wild grass that has come up during the monsoon. No mangroves or wetlands exist on the pathway,” said Stalin D, NGO Vanashakti.
“The fishermen have been supportive in conservation of mangroves and they have even abandoned the existing aquaculture ponds to be transformed into mangrove forests. However, gates need to be installed at the entrance to the site to avoid unauthorised debris dumping.”
The complainants Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare said they have nothing against the religious groups. “We pointed out that structures had cropped up within mangroves, which is a violation of Coastal Regulation Zone 1 and HC rules,” said Pawan Sharma, president, RAWW.
“It was the duty of the mangrove cell to take action, which they have not and this is disappointing.”