Maharashtra: Five years on, wetlands yet to be declared as bird sanctuaries

Updated on May 06, 2021 01:12 AM IST

More than five years have passed since former chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis, acting as the chairman of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), approved a proposal to declare three wetlands in Mumbai, Raigad and Thane districts as bird sanctuaries

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ByPrayag Arora-Desai, Mumbai

More than five years have passed since former chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis, acting as the chairman of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), approved a proposal to declare three wetlands in Mumbai, Raigad and Thane districts as bird sanctuaries. However, the respective water area — including wetlands of Mahul-Shivdi, Panje-Funde and TSC-NRI wetlands in Navi Mumbai — are yet to be notified as such, as per provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Activists earlier this week wrote to CM Uddhav Thackeray, drawing his attention to this delay, and urged him to expedite protection for these ecologically sensitive areas, which support a rich biodiversity of migratory birds during winter months. The Fadnavis government had, on December 4, 2015, proposed to declare nearly 1,600 hectares of wetland as bird sanctuary while approving the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link project.

The same day, via the official Facebook page of the Chief Minister’s office, it had been announced, “CM Devendra Fadnavis chaired the 10th meeting of the State Wildlife Board at Mumbai, in presence of forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. The board approved three bird sanctuaries in Mumbai region (Mahul-Shivdi, TSC land near Palm Beach and Panje Funde), which will help in conservation of flamingos.” Mitigation measures suggested by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) were taken into consideration before giving approval to the MTHL project, the post read.

BN Kumar, director of NatConnect NGO which has been campaigning to protect wetlands in Navi Mumbai, said, “This move is in line with what environmentalists have been demanding for years. But despite filing multiple Right to Information (RTI) queries in the recent past as to the status of Panje bird sanctuary, it was not mentioned in the responses that approval had already been granted to declare these wetlands as sanctuaries. We have now requested CM Thackeray to go ahead with his predecessor’s decision and make this announcement on World Migratory Bird Day, on May 8, as a gift to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.”

Recently, migratory birds (namely greater sandplovers) which had been tagged by BNHS at Panje in September 2018 were found to have returned to the area after a supermoon event caused tidal water to flow into the parched wetland which, Kumar said, has been dry for close to a year now. Local birder Parag Gharat who ventured out with his camera after seeing the waterflow spotted the tagged birds. Kumar quickly cross-checked the photos with BNHS which confirmed it had done the tagging. “Looks like the birds are using the Mumbai coast as a stopover or refuelling site,” said BNHS director Dr Bivash Pandav.

Meanwhile, wetlands in Mahul-Shivdi in Mumbai and TSC-NRI in Navi Mumbai also continue to support a large number of resident and migratory bird populations, including flamingos. “These areas are not just important for birds; they act as urban sponges and prevent flooding as well. Since the state government had already expressed their desire to grant them legal sanctity as bird sanctuaries, there should be no further delay in the same. To have waited for over five years since then is already a serious lapse in governance,” said Kumar.

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