Hundred mangrove trees on a five-acre plot near the Airoli Kalba complex get destroyed, but no one knows who did it. While the Maharashtra state mangrove cell officials, who visited the site on Friday, claimed the trees were hacked for construction of an electricity tower undertaken by the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB), the latter has denied the allegations.
HT had, on Thursday, reported how more than 100 mangrove trees in sector 20 were felled, in a breach of the 2005 high court order that bans destruction of mangrove forests across the state, and also within 50m of the vegetation.
“The trees have been hacked with the Centre’s permission to make way for high-tension transmission lines passing through the area and a new tower that is coming up,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests of the mangrove cell.
According to Vasudevan, the MSEB plans to set up an electricity tower at the site, as part of a larger project to be spread across 107 hectares of forest land, including mangroves between Boisar and Kharghar. “The approval for the project was given in 2013. Last year, they got the permission to clear a 75-ft area for the construction of the tower,” he said.
Avinash Mahadev Borkar, additional executive engineer, Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company Limited (MSETCL), said, “We are using the corridor of Tata Power for transmission to avoid destruction of mangroves. No mangroves have been felled, as we have not started the project yet,” said Borkar.
When HT visited the spot on Friday, it found that mangroves at the site, where the tower will come up, and on its either side, too, have been destroyed. “At times, areas near the transmission towers are cleared as per the law. We are investigating if there has been a violation,” said Vasudevan.
Sukumar Killedar, president, Save Mangroves and Navi Mumbai Existence (SAMNE), a not-for-profit, said destruction of mangroves is a regular activity in areas such as Airoli, Nerul, Vashi, Sewri, Khargar, and others along the Navi Mumbai belt. “After the trees are destroyed, during the high tide, the water enters the empty spaces, resulting in formation of ponds. Locals then claim that mangroves never existed at the spot and use them for personal benefits,” said Killedar.
Environmentalists said 80 or more such ponds have come up within 6-km of the area. “Mangroves are also being damaged by influential locals near the Bhandup sewage treatment plant,” said Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti.