Fourteen years ago, the realisation that plans were being made since 1992 to destroy the Versova mangroves to create residential societies turned active citizens from the area into mangrove saviours. With the civic body allocating the mangrove land for 37 housing societies in its proposed development plan, residents are ready to start the fight to protect the green cover, yet again.
In 2001, local residents and members of the Save Andheri Versova Environment (Save) found out that the state government had sold 45,000 sqm land covering the mangroves on the stretch, also called survey 161, to promoters of 34 societies, although the Coastal Regulation Zone 1991 rules had come into effect.
The forum then dragged the state to court and finally got the Bombay high court to ask the state to ensure the mangroves are not damaged and remain protected. The allotment of plots was, thus, struck down and the state was ordered to transfer the land to the forest department.
Residents believe the recent allotment in the DP could be the first step towards gradually ensuring that the mangroves they conserved get opened up for residential purposes and end up in the hands of land sharks. While the BMC’s maps
don’t have the names of the societies, residents suspect the land may be handed over to the same people the state had
planned to give it to between 1992 and 1995.
“The HC order was clear that the mangroves had to be protected. The state had even allocated money to conserve the mangroves. Despite the measures, the DP has showed the societies as proposed, opening a Pandora’s Box,” said Deepak Mehta, a SAVE member.
For many like Mehta, the DP markings are a reminder of the battle the residents had fought as well as an indicator that the fight may not be over. “These allotments are illegal as this is a CRZ-I land and no such plots can be marked. By showing illegal allotments on their maps for the next two decades, the BMC may be paving the way for its development. However, we are ready to fight it out,” said Mehta.