Maharashtra: Panje tidal water blockade lifted, strengthens demand for bird sanctuary
The City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (Cidco) said it removed almost all its outlets of the sluice gates at Panje area in Uran as per orders of the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed state wetland and mangrove redressal committee.
The area had been going dry over the past few months as the free flow of tidal water had been restricted by the sluice gates on one side and artificial bunds on the other. The HC-appointed panel on November 2, headed by the Konkan divisional commissioner Annasaheb Misal, directed the Raigad collector to ensure the flow of tidal water to the 289-hectare patch, a destination for hundreds of migratory birds, was not blocked.
“We ensured the removal of 72 of 76 outlets of this sluice gate over the weekend. As per original orders, we were supposed to do this by September. However, owing to Covid-19-related issues, there was a delay. Directions have been issued to local residents and security officers set up by private companies that in no circumstances, tidal water should be blocked,” said Pramod Patil, nodal officer (environment), Cidco.
The barrier was built in 1994-95 with help from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay as a flood control mechanism. The gates can also be manually operated, allowing more water to be released if needed. It shuts automatically during high tide and opens up during low tide, remaining closed throughout the months of monsoon.
Patil added that though areas in Panje had been handed over to private companies for the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ), a proposed integrated industrial township, construction cannot commence until necessary permissions are taken by private companies. “This includes coastal regulation zone (CRZ) permissions and a nod for the Bombay HC if mangrove areas are involved,” he said.
Nandkumar Pawar from environment group Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP), which is campaigning against protection of mangroves areas and fishing zones in Uran, said, “Not all flap gates have been opened yet, and we need strictly monitor the area to ensure Cidco does not close the gates again. NMSEZ has also started an illegal landfill here and a dumper truck driver was caught red-handed dumping trash recently.”
Environmentalists also expressed happiness as they had mounted a campaign to declare Panje as a bird sanctuary. They also want a compound wall around Panje to be demolished and free the bird sanctuary from all restrictions. “Panje has been under attack and birds have stopped coming here,” said BN Kumar, director, not-for-profit NatConnect Foundation.
Environment groups alleged that both the sluice gates and the wall were illegal as those planning projects at Panje do not have permissions from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), which is a prerequisite as the mangrove-filled area falls under CRZ-1. “The state government must be reminded that Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had in 2015 obtained assurance from then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that Panje would be protected as a bird sanctuary. However, Cidco has ignored this and drawn up a development plan for Dronagiri node covering Panje and other wetlands and mangrove zones,” said Tukaram Koli, a member of Uran fishing community forum Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti.
In a fresh appeal before the state, Kumar said since the sluice gates had been lifted, the government should declare Panje a bird sanctuary.
Member of the HC-panel Stalin D said they would be pursuing the matter to ensure all impediments in the way of tidal flushing are removed. “After relentlessly following up, finally Cidco has acted. There are more blockages made by local vested interests which are yet to be opened. If needed the committee members will personally visit the site to ensure that the tide water is not blocked,” he said.
In 2015, Cidco had claimed that mangroves that had grown within their holding ponds (for high-tide water connected to sluice gates mainly at Panje, Karanje and Koparkhairane) were not protected under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification since they were ‘inland mangroves’. A notification from the union environment ministry earlier this year stated that such mangroves also needed to be protected.