A different pattern of land grab is threatening mangroves in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai and in Navi Mumbai.
Large illegal aquaculture ponds and trenches created in the midst of mangroves by the local ‘koli’ and ‘agri’ coastal communities are ringing alarm bells for the survival of the dense coastal vegetation in pockets of Bhandup, Vikhroli, Diva and areas in Navi Mumbai such as Airoli, Gothivli, Ghansoli, Kopar Khairane.
Mangroves are crucial to a coastal city such as Mumbai as they act as a buffer against erosion of the coast and as a sponge to prevent flooding of the city. They also form the breeding ground for marine life.
The modus operandi to build illegal aquaculture ponds is simple: Bunds are constructed to block free flow of sea water into the mangroves. This results in water stagnation below the mangroves causing them to rot. The mangroves are cut and land is ready for aquaculture.
“The practice of aquaculture to cultivate crustaceans (crabs) and fish in wetlands is affecting the vast tracts of mangroves. Blocking sea water stagnates the growth and survival of mangroves,” said Dinesh Singh, range forest officer, Thane division. It’s a form of land grab.”
Efforts by the forest department to demolish the more than 100 such illegal ponds in Navi Mumbai have been futile. “There has been a stand-off between the forest department and the local communities in Navi Mumbai who are agitating against the demolition of the aquaculture ponds. The only available option now is to move court,” said Sudhir Padwale, assistant conservator of forests, Thane.
However, a 2010 Bombay high court order directed the forest department to remove aquaculture ponds in Bhandup following a petition filed by the Bombay Environment Act Group. At present, only one recently built pond in Bhandup hidden inside the thicket of mangroves remains to be demolished.
“Locals use antibiotics while breeding prawns. Once the prawns are out, the chemical-laden water is released into the Thane creek, polluting it. This process is repeated,” said Stalin D, from Vanashakti. “The high court order should apply to other locations since the court cannot pass orders for individual sites.”
This year, 10 of the 30 complaints of mangrove destruction reported to the Konkan divisional commissioner are from the eastern suburbs. Like in the case of western suburbs, no action has been taken on the violators.
Apart from the problem of aquaculture, industrial pollution and sewage water is endangering mangroves in Wadala, Sewri, Mahul, Kanjurmarg, Cheetah Camp at Mankhurd and around the Thane creek. For instance, all that remains on more than 15 acres of mangrove land at the Sewri Bay are bare tree trunks owing to coal stored just a few metres away, on land owned by the Mumbai Port Trust. At present, the Bombay high court is hearing the case after it took suo motu cognisance of the extensive death of mangroves.