Member of HC-appointed panel seeks to halt reclamation work near Mumbai’s Powai lake
A member of the high court-appointed wetlands grievance redressal committee has written to the authorities in Maharashtra and the Centre, seeking an immediate stoppage of construction works around the boundary of Mumbai’s Powai Lake – near Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) – for the purpose of building a cycling track. The work is being together carried out by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).
The work has now invited objections from environmentalists, who said that forest and wildlife clearances for the project have not been granted despite being mandatory. In their letter on Thursday, addressed to officials from the Union environment ministry, the central and state pollution control bodies and the state forest and wildlife departments, Stalin D, wetlands committee member and director of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Vanashakti, wrote, “The lake is home to the Indian marsh crocodile, a Schedule 1 protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972... the National Board for wildlife and forest departments have not given any clearance... for this activity.”
Stalin also pointed out that site of the ongoing work is “very much inside the lake waters”, specifically in the spillover zone adjoining the IIT-B jetty. He drew the officials’ attention to the past orders by the Supreme Court and the Bombay high court which explicitly prevent any construction work or reclamation within the boundaries of wetlands identified in the National Wetlands Atlas, of which Powai Lake is one. Construction work in the region, the letter points out, will impact the availability of water to the dense natural forests which line the periphery of the lake.
“Instead of keeping the boundaries of the lake inviolate... the lake is being capitalised by using the area for construction,” the letter stated, warning that legal action will be initiated against the ongoing work if construction is not stopped, and the area not restored.
Earlier this month, Omkar Mahadeo Supekar, a researcher with IIT-B, had written to the Union environment ministry, filing a complaint against the ongoing work, stating that it had resulted in the felling of trees and poses a threat to biodiversity of the lake. The Union environment ministry subsequently directed the complaint to the state forest department asking that the complaint be resolved. The latter is yet to submit a report on the same, as directed by the Union environment ministry.
BMC officials were unavailable for comment. Officials from forest and wildlife departments said they will look into the matter and take necessary action accordingly.
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In October 2019, the Bombay high court (HC) quashed a clutch of petition by environmentalists that sought to declare a 33-acre plot in the city’s green lung as a legal forest under the Indian Forest Act (1927). This patch was demarcated in 2013 to construct a car shed for the upcoming Metro 3 line.