The salt pan land on the eastern express highway - the last of the city’s few open spaces – is shrinking.
Large tracts of the eight-km eco-sensitive stretch between Vikhroli and Mulund that once had mounds of salt drying on them along the western side of the highway, now have grass growing in sewage water.
Salt pan lands are largely owned by the Central government but were leased out to private parties to manufacture salt. There are five functional salt flats east of the highway.
However, a preliminary survey conducted by Vanashakti, a non-government organisation (NGO), last month found that at three points on the stretch, inlets allowing the flow of sea water have been cemented to block the flow of tidal water to the salt flats.
The NGO also found fresh bunds (embankments) have been created to prevent the flow of seawater. Vanashakti has also spotted six locations from where toxic untreated sewage and municipal drainage water enters the saltpans, polluting ground water and soil that has resulted in the growth of grass.
Salt pans act as sponges during the rain and prevent flooding. They are earmarked as a no development zone. They fall under the high ecologically sensitive Coastal Regulation Zone-I and are protected under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010. However, the state government has proposed the land may be used to build low-cost housing.
“Salt pans have been made out of mangrove areas, so regeneration of mangroves happens there. We need to restore these wetlands to their original state,” said Stalin D, of Vanashakti, who has written to the state environment department and the salt commissioner.
Stating that the complaint has been referred to the mangrove cell set up by the forest department, Valsa Nair Singh, environment secretary said, “I have requested details and will keep this case as the agenda in the next Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority.”