Bombay HC seeks explanation from collectors on non-transfer of mangrove areas to Maharashtra forest department
The Bombay high court (HC) has directed collectors of all coastal districts, City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) to submit affidavits explaining why they have not complied with the September 2018 order of the HC, directing to declare all mangrove areas as forests, and transfer the areas to the forest department.
A public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Vanashakti claimed that there was willful negligence, and sought directions to immediately initiate transfer and handover of nearly 1,600 hectare of mangrove land under the jurisdictions of the said authorities to the forest department. The NGO sought to place the mangrove forests under the control of the chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell).
A division bench of justice Amjad Sayed and justice Madhav Jamdar, while hearing the PIL, was informed by advocate Zaman Ali for Vanshakti that on September 18, 2018, the HC had reiterated its previous directions to declare mangrove areas as forests and transfer them to the forest department.
In light of this, Ali submitted that the order applied to collectors of the coastal districts which included Mumbai city, Mumbai suburban, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, as well as the three authorities namely Cidco, JNPT and MMRDA.
The PIL submitted that while 15,311.7087 hectare of mangrove land came under the purview of the order, only a total of 13,716.7321 hectare was transferred to the revenue and forest department, while 1,594.9766 hectare was pending transfer. Ali submitted that pursuant to the 2018 HC order, the chief conservator of forests had reminded the collectors and the three authorities of non-compliance, but none of them complied, and hence, the NGO was compelled to approach the court.
Apart from seeking directions to the authorities to transfer the mangrove land to the forest department and the chief conservator of forests, the PIL also sought initiation of contempt proceedings against the errant authorities as well as directions to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) to refrain from processing any coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance applications for development purposes proposed in mangrove forest areas and buffer zones till completion of the transfer of mangrove lands to the forest department. The PIL also sought direction to restore the mangrove areas degraded since 2005.
After hearing the submissions, the bench directed the respondent authorities to file their replies within three weeks and is expected to hear the matter in the second week of February.