The National Green Tribunal in New Delhi.(HT archive)
The National Green Tribunal in New Delhi.(HT archive)

Maharashtra: In keeping with NGT orders, demolition of skywalk over heritage wetland begins

The Sindhudurg district collector told the NGT that a departmental enquiry had been initiated against PWD authorities for failing to take remedial steps to destroy the skywalk
By Badri Chatterjee | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON NOV 03, 2020 10:32 AM IST

The Sindhudurg district administration in Maharashtra has complied with the orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which was issued in October, by starting the demolition of an illegal skywalk built by the state public works department (PWD) over Dhamapur Lake at Malvan, a 490-year-old heritage wetland.

In a compliance affidavit filed on October 23 and received by applicants last week, the Sindhudurg district collector, K Manjulekshmi, told the NGT that a departmental enquiry had been initiated against the PWD authorities for neglecting previous decisions of the tribunal and failing to take remedial steps to destroy the skywalk.

The Dhamapur Lake, an inland wetland and a permanent freshwater lake that is spread over 61.7 hectares (ha), was constructed in 1530 AD between villages Are and Katta in Sindhudurg district.

The wetland has been recognised by the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) among top 100 wetlands in the country that need ecosystem restoration.

Also read | Centre notifies protected buffer around Maharashtra’s Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary

The NGT had been hearing a plea by Sindhudurg residents Dr. Harishchandra Purshottam Natu and Omkar Keni since 2017 alleging various encroachments and the construction of skywalk around Dhamapur Lake by the PWD authorities, which was leading to shrinking of the lake and causing environmental degradation.

“Due to the lethargic and negligent attitude of the PWD in implementing NGT orders and collector Sindhudurg, the district administration proposed departmental enquiry against PWD authorities following which the state body has shown efforts in the removal of illegal structures,” read Manjulekshmi’s submission.

The district administration had acted sincerely and made efforts in implementing NGT’s orders, he added.

HT had reported on October 15 that NGT’s principal bench of Justice Sheo Kumar Singh and expert member Dr Satyawan Singh Gabryal directed the Sindhudurg district collector to ensure that an amount of Rs 1.5 crore is attached in the bank account of the PWD till the time it does not transfer the sum to the State Biodiversity Board to restore the heritage wetland.

“The district treasury officer, Sindhudurg, has ordered ICICI Bank to attach an amount of Rs1.5 crore from the official account of the PWD Sawantwadi executive engineer. Accordingly, ICICI Bank marked a loan of Rs1.5 crore from the account,” read the compliance affidavit.

NGT had also directed the district administration to take necessary steps to remove all obstructions and illegalities as far as construction work is concerned in violation of the Wetland Rules, 2017.

The compliance affidavit said around 20% of the demolition work had been completed till October 23, including removal of flooring tiles of the skywalk, dismantling of the concrete slab and debris collected was disposed of 4 kilometres (km) away from the wetland.

The collector refused to comment, as the matter was sub-judice.

An official from the Sindhudurg district administration said around 50% of the skywalk demolition had been completed till Monday (see images), and the rest would be completed by mid-November.

Environmentalists and petitioners before the NGT welcomed the steps taken by the district administration and hailed the bid to protect the heritage wetland.

“In the next hearing, we are going to raise issues on plans of the district administration to spend the restoration amount (Rs1.5 crore) on Dhamapur Lake,” said Keni.

He said that the lake was affected by sundry activities such as washing of clothes and immersion of idols.

“We will suggest that reed beds should be constructed at the spillway of the wetland, which can facilitate activities such as washing of clothes and immersion of idols,” he said.

There is also another challenge in ensuring that green cover around the wetland is protected. “An effective management plan is needed to protect salt-marsh wetland plants such as teevar and other red-listed rare flora species reported at the lake’s unique habitat,” Keni added.

Win after 3-year-long battle to protect 500-year-old wetland

The Dhamapur Lake, an inland wetland and a permanent freshwater lake, spread over about 61.7 ha was constructed in 1530 between villages Are and Katta in Sindhudurg district .

The lake is surrounded by hills and dense plantations of mango, coconut and areca palm.

The water body is a source of both drinking water and irrigation.

The lake is one of the top 100 wetlands in the country identified by the MoEFCC for rapid restoration and improvement, and also a projected Ramsar site by the Maharashtra government.

The wetland is a natural habitat of 193 and 247 floral and faunal species, respectively.

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