The state’s environment department plans to enact a separate law to protect mangroves because existing laws have been unsuccessful in curbing large-scale destruction of these protected forest areas.
The department will soon form a core committee of legal experts, environmentalists and officials to draft the proposed state legislation. “We need a separate legislation because there is no clarity in the existing laws about enforcement. The existing penalty of Rs1 lakh is also not a sufficient deterrent for culprits,” said Valsa Nair Singh, environment secretary.
Singh added that the department gets over 20 complaints monthly about cases of hacking of mangroves, dumping of debris or other such transgressions.
The city has a total area of 4,865 hectares of mangroves out of which 4,117 hectares is protected forests. HT had reported on Thursday that in the last two decades, 40% of Mumbai’s mangrove cover has been lost to construction and encroachments.
There is confusion over the enforcing of existing laws (Environment Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act, Bombay Police Act).
For instance, the police do not take action if mangrove hacking occurs on protected forests. Forest officials take cognisance under the forest conservation act, a tedious procedure, only if such complaints are on notified forests.
The proposed legislation will enable the police to take action against the destruction of mangroves across the state irrespective of which land it falls under. It will also make offenders pay through compulsory afforestation, by restoring twice the number of mangroves destroyed. The penalty for the offence will also be substantially hiked.