In August 2014, just five months after the interim ban by the Bombay high court (HC), justice VM Kanade remarked in court: “Sometimes we wonder whether the government is run by the court or the government is run by itself. Until we pass orders, its machinery does not move.”
And the state machinery seems to have started moving. According to affidavits filed in the HC by deputy commissioners of police of four zones, Thane (rural) saw 32 criminal cases against destruction of wetlands, followed by Navi Mumbai at 27 and Vasai at 26.
Of the total 99 criminal cases filed across the four zones, 74 have named the accused, while the remaining 25 cases have been registered under “unknown persons”.
However, Mumbai suburban district collector Shekhar Channe said even though the number of cases of wetland and mangrove destruction has increased in the last two years, strict action has been taken.
“Over the past two years, we have taken action in more than 60 cases by removing illegal encroachments and debris from wetlands on private land. We have asked local police stations and talathi (circle officers) to monitor areas with thick mangrove cover and immediate action is taken if any violation is observed.”
With around 10 to 12 cases over the past two years, Thane collector Ashwini Joshi said vigilance has been upped. “We have been monitoring the mangrove cover in Thane through latest satellite imagery and wherever we have found any reduction, our circle officers have initiated action as per law,” said Joshi.
Even as officials claimed that action was being taken, environmentalists said wetland and mangrove destruction activities must be made a cognisable offence.
“The police do not have the authority to file an FIR on private land until they are directed by the district collector or revenue officers. Thus, there are matters that have taken place in April last year but no FIRs have been filed till date,” said Harish Pandey, secretary, New Link Road Residents’ Forum.
“Development is not only construction and building infrastructure. It means much more,” said Debi Goenka, environmentalist. “With extreme weather events and changing climate, Mumbai is fast destroying its natural defences.”