For safekeeping: JNPA hands over 814 ha of mangroves to forest dept
However, in response to an RTI request last year in June, the post authority claimed it had “no record” of mangroves on its land
Mumbai The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA) on Tuesday handed over 814 hectares of mangrove land on its property in Uran, Raigad district, to the state forest department for safekeeping. This was done pursuant to Bombay High Court orders in 2004 and 2018, instructing all government agencies to hand over their mangrove lands, which will be protected as legal forests.
In the mid-2000s, JNPT had about 913 hectares (of mangroves on its property in Nhava Sheva). However, in response to an RTI request last year in June, the post authority claimed it had “no record” of mangroves on its land.
“To determine how much area is there as of date, we approached the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC) for demarcation. The results were received by us in April this year and revealed that there are some 884 hectares of mangroves on the premises now. Of this, we have handed over 814 hectares, and the balance 70 hectares will be diverted for development,” said a JNPT spokesperson. Of these 70 hectares, about 51 hectares are proposed to be diverted for road building and widening projects, and 18 odd hectares are proposed to be diverted for port expansion within the JNPA special economic zone (SEZ).
Given the long-standing delay in this process, city-based NGO Vanashakti in December 2020 served a contempt notice to JNPA. Subsequently, in January this year, Vanashakti filed a fresh public interest litigation (PIL) to expedite HC’s final judgement from September 2018 which concerns protection for over 3,000 ha of mangroves across the state. The PIL also alleges that there has been wilful destruction and reclamation of mangroves by various authorities, including JNPA, in violation of environmental safeguards.
Previously, JNPA had been penalised by the HC-appointed mangrove protection and conservation committee for destroying at least 4,500 mangroves to make way for its container terminal-4 port expansion project.
In response, JNPA submitted an affidavit stating that the state government has not directly approached them seeking transfer of mangrove land. On the contrary, after receiving Vanashakti’s contempt notice in December, JNPA itself wrote to the mangrove cell in January, asking for “details about JNPT’s mangrove vegetation land out of 1194 hectares of Raigad district”.
The forest department, on its part, has maintained that they do not have any idea about the extent of mangroves under JNPT’s jurisdiction, bringing the matter to a deadlock which, experts say, only prolonged the final goal of bringing Uran’s mangroves under legal protection.
Stalin D, director of Vanashakti, maintained that JNPA’s claim of having a certain number of mangroves on their port property cannot be taken at face value. “The state government seems to be content to accept JNPA’s own report, which is a conflict of interest. We have ourselves identified several pockets of mangroves there which have not come under protection. We will wait for the forest department to submit to the High Court a record of new areas that they have got under their control, before taking further steps.”