In the years following the Bombay high court’s (HC) landmark 2005 order, declaring mangroves as protected forests, awareness among Mumbaiites about their worth was still rudimentary.
In the absence of an active administration, several like-minded citizens took up the responsibility of protecting the mangroves. The New Link Residents’ Forum, Dahisar, is one such citizens group that has fought on ground as well as legal battles to save large mangrove swathes in the suburbs of Dahisar and Gorai.
Formed in 2008 to tackle issues of water theft, illegal establishments and street crime, the group consists of residents from 35-40 colonies of New Link Road, IC Colony and Kandarpada.
Fighting the destruction of wetlands by the vast slum sprawl of Ganpat Patil Nagar has been one of the mainstays of the group.
Situated adjacent to the Gorai creek, more than half of the 8,000 slums in Ganpat Patil Nagar had eaten into the mangroves area. At the same time, illegal parking of buses by tour operators was also posing a threat to the wetlands.
“These are notified mangroves and wetlands that are spread across 50 acres. Since 2008, we have put sustained pressure on the authorities to take cognisance of the encroachments. Even the slums are at risk as they are too close to the sea during high tide,” said Harish Pandey, a member of New Link Road Residents’ Forum.
In 2009, the residents’ forum began a two-year struggle to save a 400-acre choking mangrove swamp near Gorai creek. A developer had illegally constructed bunds that were blocking the seawater.
“We kept vigils and complained to all government authorities concerned. We could not stand the rampant destruction of mangroves,” said Dr P Mathew, another member of the residents’ forum.
The forum tasted success when the Supreme Court, in December 2011, asked the developer to pay Rs1.24 crore as compensation for the environmental damage.
Along with non-profit Vanashakti and other citizens groups from Vasai and Bhayander, New Link Residents’ Forum is currently fighting a litigation in the HC to save suburban wetlands from illegal reclamation and encroachments.
In an interim order, the HC has banned reclamation of wetlands and asked state authorities to give a status report on vulnerable sites such as Ganpat Patil Nagar.
“It is only because of the efforts of groups such as New Link Road Residents’ Forum that mangrove stretches are still intact. Left solely to the administration, the wetlands of the city would have been largely destroyed by now,” said Rishi Aggarwal, environmental activist and research fellow, Observer Research Foundation.