Bhendkhal where tankers are being used to drain water from the site.(HT Photo)
Bhendkhal where tankers are being used to drain water from the site.(HT Photo)

Mumbai: Tankers being used to drain water from Uran wetlands; more security cabins set up at Panje

The techniques were identified by the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed wetland and mangrove grievance redressal committee member Stalin D and environmentalist Nandkumar Pawar
By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
UPDATED ON DEC 13, 2020 11:21 PM IST

Following a site visit to Uran in Navi Mumbai on Thursday, environmentalists have revealed that unidentified persons are drying up wetland patches using water tankers to drain large water bodies. The unidentified persons are also creating bunds inside the wetland to restrict water from flowing out and ensuring that it gets evaporated.

The techniques were identified by the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed wetland and mangrove grievance redressal committee member Stalin D and environmentalist Nandkumar Pawar.

Additionally, 10 new security cabins at the threatened Panje area in Uran have been set up. Both environmentalists took photos of the violations and shared them in a complaint before various bodies of the Maharashtra government on Friday.

The alleged destruction of wetlands was highlighted a day after the Raigad district administration informed the HC-panel on Wednesday that there were no wetlands in Uran taluka as per the definition of the new 2017 wetland rules.

“Emboldened by the collector’s stand that there are no wetlands in Uran, the land mafia is working overtime to destroy all traces of wetlands in Uran. Despite 13 wetlands being identified by scientific experts and the National Wetland Inventory Atlas, Maharashtra 2011, today only five remain (two sites at Belpada, and one each at Bhendkhal, Sawharkar, and Panje), which are also being squeezed further,” said Stalin, adding, “Time has run out for Uran wetlands only due to inaction of the collector and active support from the City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (Cidco).”

In a separate letter to the Konkan divisional commissioner on Friday, Stalin pointed out that about six years ago, the then chief conservator of forests (mangrove cell) N Vasudevan had submitted a report to the Bombay HC that the Bhendkhal wetland was being reclaimed, and needed to be protected.

“Though the reclamation had stopped for a while, the site has been destroyed and only a fraction is in existence today. Illegal truck parking and industrial units have come up on the wetland. We seek removal of all encroachments and debris that from the site,” said Stalin.

Nandakumar Pawar, head of environmental group Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishthan, said he was aghast to see 10 security cabins cropping up at Panje which according to him are either set up by a private company to restrict the entry of birders, environmentalists or local residents. During his visit on Thursday, he found strict security and a board proclaiming the place as private property.

“How can a wetland be somebody’s private property,” he asked the security guards preventing bird watchers and local fishing community from entering the wetland. He said the HC-panel had specifically directed Cidco and the Raigad district collector to ensure that Panje is protected and conserved.

Environmentalist Aishwarya Sridhar, who has been regularly photographing the condition of Panje, said, “The wetland is purposely dried off-and-on by vested interests with a view to showing that it is not a wetland, and open it up for real estate and commercial development.”

Raigad collector Nidhi Choudhari said she was not aware about the complaints or methods being alleged by the HC-panel member, but clarified that the district was working to protect Panje.

“We are examining how the Panje area needs to be protected, based on directions by the government. If we are sent a list of more such locations, we will verify and examine the need for their protection,” she said.

Pramod Patil, nodal officer, Cidco, said he was awaiting directions from the collectors’ office on site visits to study the possibility of declaring wetlands in Uran, but denied that he knew anything about security cabins being set up at Panje or the use of tankers to drain water at other sites in the taluka.

“Panje belongs to a private company and we have asked them to ensure the area is protected,” he said.

Meanwhile, another environment group, NatConnect Foundation, requested the Maharashtra government on Friday through a letter to take stern action against the Raigad collector and other officials for defying environment minister Aaditya Thackeray’s previous directions to stop construction at Panje.

“With more security cabins and recent developments before the HC-panel, there are serious lapses on the part of the collectorate and Cidco that have ensured that the minister’s instructions of no fresh construction at Panje are not followed,” said BN Kumar, director, NatConnect Foundation.

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