December 2013: The state government, following orders by the Bombay high court (HC), issues direction to all civic bodies to enforce a ban on reclamation or construction on wetlands.
March 2014: A division bench of justice VM Kanade and justice Anil Menon impose an interim ban on reclamation and construction in wetland areas across the state.
January 2016: A division bench of justice VM Kanade and justice Revati Mohite-Dere states that wetlands have to be strictly protected.
A week before the court’s recent observation, activist Reji Abrahami filed a complaint with the civic body alleging that about 350 illegal hutments had cropped up on the wetlands at Charkop, Kandivli (West), in connivance with local slumlords. While civic officials demolished a majority of the hutments after the complaint, the shanties resurfaced a day later.
Almost two years since the HC ordered an interim ban across the state, destruction of wetlands continues unabated. With an average of one reported case of wetland destruction every month in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region – January alone witnessed three incidents – there have been as many as 14 reported cases in the past one year alone. Of this, action has only been taken in five cases.
“There is a scant respect for the orders passed by the high court,” said Godfrey Pimenta, convener, Watchdog Foundation that has highlighted several cases of wetland and mangrove destruction around Malad-Malwani, Madh Island and Navi Mumbai.
“Only when officers are picked up individually or newspapers highlight an issue, some action is action,” he added.
No cognisance to the court’s directions led petitioner Vanashakti, an NGO, to file a contempt petition in December. “It’s shocking that despite the court orders, wetlands are being destroyed. It’s a mockery of the whole exercise,” said Stalin D, project director, Vanashakti.
In 2013, Vanashakti filed a PIL stating that rampant reclamation and destruction of wetlands and that Wetland Rules 2010 were not being implemented in the state. It claimed that the state had failed to prepare a ‘brief document’ to survey and protect wetlands such as marshes, lagoons, lakes and mangroves as mandated by the Wetland Rules, 2010.
While the court had directed the state to put together a brief that will map wetland areas with their zone of influence in 2014, not much has been done.
“We will outsource the work for 598 wetlands across the state that falls within the forest department. The wetlands outside the forest areas will have to be prepared by the state environment department,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator for the mangrove cell, and member secretary of the wetland monitoring committee as directed by the HC. “The document will be ready by the year end.”
With five mangrove destruction cases at Dahisar and Borivli over the past year, New Link Road Residents’ Forum (NLRRF) said around 4,500 mangrove trees have been destroyed. Of the five cases, an FIR was filed only in one.
“That reclamation of wetlands and destruction of mangroves continues even after the HC ban goes to show that the environment is never a priority for the government,” said Harish Pandey, secretary, NLRRF.