More than 500 huts at Cuffe Parade, Colaba and Cheeta Camp in Trombay were demolished on Thursday as part of a drive by the state mangrove cell, which plans to clear encroachments from nine mangrove areas before the monsoon begins.
The demolition drive, called Operation Re-green, began on Wednesday, when 316 and 214 illegal huts were removed from Cuffe Parade and Cheeta Camp.
A 2005 Bombay high court order had banned the destruction of mangrove forests across the state, and prohibited construction within a 50-metre radius of wetlands. The order came after a public interest litigation (PIL) by the non-government organisation Bombay Environment Action Group.
In 2014, the NGO Vanashakti filed a separate PIL about the protection of wetlands, after which the HC banned all reclamation and construction on protected wetlands.
When the Maharashtra government gave mangrove forests the reserved forest tag instead of the protected forests status, it gave the mangrove cell the authority to remove encroachments, said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.
“The assistant conservator of forest has been given the authority as a collector under the land revenue code, to evict encroachments on government land. Using these powers, notices were issued to inhabitants of illegal huts across nine locations in the city,” Vasudevan said.
Officials said the residents were given a 15-day notice.
However, when HT visited Cheeta Camp during the demolition drive, some of the inhabitants had refused to leave their huts and were being forced by forest officers to vacate.
“This is the first time any kind of encroachment has been removed from this area, as it is very difficult to trespass here,” said Sanjay Mali, divisional forest officer, mangrove cell.
“We were given hardly any time to remove our belongings before the forest officials used an excavator to demolish our huts,” said a residents who lost his home.
Vasudevan said the department will conduct regular checks to stop further encroachments. “Our mission is to make mangroves free of encroachments by the end of this year. We will constantly check every location where the drive was conducted.”
The action plan
* 5,500 hectares is the area of mangrove forested land across Mumbai and Navi Mumbai
* 5 hectares has been encroached upon, according to officials
* 530 illegal huts already removed under Operation Re-green
* Of these, 316 huts were removed from Cuffe Parade and Colaba ; 214 were cleared from Cheeta camp in Trombay
* 633 more to be cleared
* The state mangrove cell has sent notices to 633 other huts at Mankhurd, Vikhroli (East), Jogeshwari (East), Borivli (West) and Malad (West)
Why Mangroves are important
* Mangroves act as a buffer between the land and sea
* It protects the land from erosion and acts as a wall during cyclones
* It is also a rich breeding ground for a variety of marine animals, as well as reptiles and birds
* It’s a source of timber, fuel and fodder and also absorbs impurities in the air
200 mangrove trees destroyed in Airoli
A month after 100 trees were found hacked in a five-acre area at Sector 20, near Airoli-Kalba complex at Navi Mumbai, more than 200 other trees have been cut at Sector 14
Nandkumar Pawar of the NGO Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan found the chopped trees. “Full-grown, healthy mangrove trees have been hacked. It looks like the trees were cut a long time ago,” he said.
But the state mangrove cell said they had not received a complaint. “We will send our officials to the site,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.