NGT asks Navi Mumbai planning body to clear water inlets at Panje wetland
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday instructed the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) to ensure that all tidal water inlets to its 289-hectare (ha) property in Uran are opened immediately to ensure flow of sea water to Panje coastal wetland and its mangrove forests. The development comes on the heels of a recent petition filed by Nandakumar Pawar of the Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, requesting an urgent interim relief in the matter.
The order (a copy of which is yet to be made public) will concern five culverts that require cleaning up to allow tidal water from a free-flowing coastal creek to flow into the wetland, which has been significantly denuded over the past 10 years to due reclamation, construction and hindrances to water flow. Last November, the Bombay high court (HC) had ruled that blocking the flow of tidal water to the area would be deemed a violation.
“However, as the HC’s order was not yet complied with, we approached NGT for an urgent interim relief in the matter. This was a much-needed step for ensuring the health of the wetland,” said NatConnect Foundation’s director BN Kumar, who has been campaigning to bring greater protection to the area.
In September 2018, Cidco had shut 76 sluice gates using a flood-control mechanism to close high-tide water ingress. Some gates had also been damaged, which environmentalists said was starving the adjacent mangrove forests of water. In October 2019, following complaints submitted to the state mangrove cell and interventions by the wetland grievance redressal committee, these gates were opened by Cidco.
“But there were five culverts that still required attention. Those will now have to be cleared up as well,” said Kumar.
After a plea by NatConnect Foundation, state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray had, on March 4, 2020, ordered to halt construction at Panje. Despite this, reports of intermittent landfilling have been verified in the area.
Environmentalists said this order, addressed to Raigad collector and Cidco went unimplemented, after which NatConnect approached the chief minister, who asked the environment department to intervene.
Subsequently, last November 2020, Narendra Toke, director, environment and climate change department, instructed the collector and Cidco to abide by the minister’s order. Toke also pointed out that hindering tidal water flow to the wetland amounts to a violation of coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms. The government has also claimed before HC that Panje falls under CRZ-1, due to which there can be no construction without the approval of the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA).
“Cidco, despite claiming that Panje is a holding pond as part of the flood control mechanism for the upcoming Dronagiri node, has leased out most of the wetland to Navi Mumbai SEZ (special economic zone), of which the state-owned planning agency is a 26% partner. NMSEZ built a massive compound wall around Panje and set up security cabins without any permission. The environment director has ordered NMSEZ to demolish the cabins, which were also not adhered to,” Kumar wrote in a more recent letter to CM.
The Panje coastal wetland is low-lying and spread over an area of approximately 289ha. It is bounded by the Panje, Phunde, Dongari and Bokadvira villages and bordered by mangroves on the west and the east, and has mangroves inside the wetland at some locations. It is an intertidal wetland that has been formed naturally in abandoned saltpans. Due to its geographical location, it was earmarked by the planning authorities as a flood control zone as the regular tidal influence made it easy to soak and drain the water from the nearby areas.