Wetland at Powai Lake only one to be notified across city
The city will have only one major notified wetland, divided into four zones across 181.9 hectares, at Powai Lake, as per the amended wetland rules 2017. This would effectively open up construction on salt pans and other areas, which were earlier identified as coastal wetlands.
On January 30, the state had submitted 59 verified potential wetland zones (10 in the city and 49 in the suburbs) before the Bombay high court (HC). Of these, the Mumbai suburban district administration proposed only the four zones, varying 113.6ha, 46.6ha, 14.3ha, and 7.4ha within Powai lake for final notification as wetlands under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. Mumbai city administration has not proposed any wetland under its jurisdiction for the final notification.
The National Wetland Atlas 2011 (Maharashtra), made under the 2010 wetland rules, had marked 475 wetlands in city – 412 in the suburbs and 63 in south Mumbai – spread across 14,045 ha. This means Mumbai will witness a 98.7% decrease in recorded wetland area documented from 2010 rules to the 2017 rules.
The development comes ahead of the World Wetlands Day, observed to conserve and protect the wetlands. According to the United Nations, wetlands are permanently or seasonally saturated in water and create habitats for aquatic plants and are vital for flood control, as they absorb excess flow from rain, while recharging ground water.
District collectors from the suburbs and south Mumbai told HT that the conditions imposed under the new rules excluded salt pans, man-made water bodies, creeks, mangrove areas and previously identified coastal wetlands. “The locations are either protected as reserved forests or under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) rules or have already been developed on,” said city collector Shivaji Jondhale, adding that the 10 proposed wetland sites in south Mumbai that could not be validated included Wadala, Mahim, Cuffe Parade, Navy Nagar and Malabar Hill.
Satyanarayan Bajaj, deputy collector, Mumbai suburban, said the documentation for each of the four sites in Powai, with characteristic features, location, expanse, threats, an action plan to preserve them, have been submitted in the form of brief documents to the state. “The criteria defined under the new wetland rules are stringent and clearly state man-made water bodies or tanks, areas for aquaculture, salt pans, recreation and irrigation purposes etc are not wetlands anymore,” said Bajaj.
The 49 locations selected for final verification in the suburbs included 22 in Kurla division, 15 in Borivli, and 12 in Andheri.
The state confirmed that Mumbai has proposed only four wetland sites in Powai for final verification. “District administrations were confused about the wetland identification process under new rules. However, now they have submitted their final lists. The state wetland committee, headed by the environment minister, will study proposals from all districts and issue recommendations on findings. This report will be sent to the state for final declaration of wetlands for each district soon,” said Sanjay Sandashiv, undersecretary, environment department.
Stalin D, director of environmental group Vanashakti had petitioned the HC and alleged that the government did not want to develop a comprehensive list of wetlands, as it would open up more areas for development. “Every mischief by the government to defeat the spirit of the wetland rules will be exposed before the HC and accountability will be sought. Records for intertidal salt pans and wetlands in Bhandup, Charkop, Borivli, Kandivli and Wadala have been manipulated to allow construction,” he said. The matter will be heard on Wednesday.
Ironically, Powai was identified to have the worst water quality and wetland health among all major recongised wetlands in Maharashtra by the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History under the Union environment ministry’s direction for priority restoration of wetland areas and developing integrated management plans for them. “Powai is under maximum stress in Maharashtra and needs urgent attention since it is an urban lake with water quality issues,” said Ritesh Kumar, director, Wetlands International South Asia.
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