Mumbai: Despite complaints destructed mangroves await restoration, say experts
Since its inception in 2018, the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee (MPCC) has received an estimated 142 complaints regarding the destruction of mangroves in the state’s coastal districts. Of these, about 88 complaints have been ‘resolved’, with a few have been transferred to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) for their consideration. Another 54 odd complaints are pending resolution, according to committee members. However, committee members (including officials in the forest department’s mangrove cell) confirmed to Hindustan Times that not a single complaint has so far resulted in the restoration of damaged mangroves, which is part of the mandate given to the committee by the HC in its final judgement from September 2018.
At the time, the HC had emphasised, “One...important issue is to restore mangroves areas which are illegally reclaimed. The said areas have to be restored to their original condition. That is the legal obligation of the state. In what manner restoration should be done, should be decided by the committee headed by the divisional commissioner after consulting experts in the field.”
Commenting on the matter, Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF), mangrove cell, said, “I do not think any of the complaints have so far resulted in the restoration of the area. That is something we have kept funds for but cannot proceed with until the various municipal corporations or land-owning agencies clean up the debris first. The restoration will be done by the forest department but cleaning up the area is their responsibility.”
Of the total number of complaints received by the committee, only nine have so far been shortlisted for restoration activities — which are still pending. Though environmentalists say there are likely to be several complaints where the committee has overlooked the need for the restoration itself. Navi Mumbai-based activist BN Kumar gave the example of mangrove destruction along the Sion-Panvel Highway, allegedly done by a contractor of the Public Works Department (PWD).
“The damage on sight warrants restoration. Even the debris has not been cleaned, but the complaint came up for resolution in the agenda of the last Mangrove Committee meeting,” Kumar added. Giving a second example of mangrove destruction at Pagote in Uran, within the erstwhile Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone, he added, “In that matter, an FIR has been registered against unknown persons, but there seems to be no effort taken to restore acres of buried mangroves.”
Neenu Somraj, deputy conservator of forests (mangrove cell), said that the committee’s work is an ongoing process and that all complaints will be duly reviewed. “Many cases are open and shut cases where collectors have conducted sight visits and filed inspection reports. In these matters, FIRs have been filed as per protocol and small debris dumps have also been cleaned up. In some complaints, the scale of damage is larger, and those will take a little longer to restore. Those cases have not been closed.”
Stalin D, director of NGO Vanashakti and an independent member appointed to the MPCC, emphasised that lack of restoration amounts to non-compliance of HC’s orders. “Not only are smaller violations being let off, but the committee has also not yet sent any show-cause notices to municipalities asking them to address the biggest violators. In Thane, for example, long stretches of cement roads have been made over mangroves and cement mixers have come up in the forest patches. The committee needs to act sooner and pull up the municipalities, otherwise, small complaints will keep getting resolved without serious investigation, and bigger complaints will lie unaddressed.”