Maharashtra: Four-acre mangrove patch destroyed near proposed eco park in Uran
A group of environmentalists has unearthed a four-acre patch of dried up and destroyed mangroves at a site less than 200 metres from the proposed mangrove park by Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Belpada, Uran.
The group, Shri Ekvira Aai Pratisthan (SEAP), said at least approximately 1,500 mangrove trees were destroyed after tidal water was blocked off by locals for captive fish breeding or aqua culture activities. The patch had turned dark brown while trees located at the site of the proposed park remained lush green.
“Local vested interests have been involved in these illegal activities. Strict corrective action must be taken against the culprits otherwise these kind of practices may be repeated everywhere. Local residents need to be made aware about the importance of this ecosystem,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, SEAP, who filed a complaint with various state authorities requesting a first information report in the matter and an investigation by the revenue or forest department.
Last week, Pawar also filed complaints about alleged debris dumping at other locations Belpada, Sawarkhar, and Sonari areas of Uran.
In November, JNPT announced that it planned to build a 200-hectare (ha) mangrove (eco) park to protect dense mangrove patches and house visiting galleries, mangrove walkthroughs (boardwalks), a nature interpretation centre, and a nursery with rare mangrove species, at Belpada in Uran at a cost of Rs5 crore for the first phase.
The proposed site is covered with healthy mangroves, said Dilip Koli from the Paramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti, a local fishing community. “It is a rich fishing area especially for fish, shellfish, crabs etc. We are dependent upon these stretches for our livelihood but it would be lost due to this park,” said Koli.
During the last meeting of the Bombay high court (HC)-directed state mangrove and wetland grievance redressal committee on November 2, the Konkan commissioner, chairman panel, said JNPT could go ahead with the project. “A mangrove park will lead to awareness for locals in Uran but we will convey our final decision during the next HC panel meet scheduled this month,” said Annasaheb Misal, Konkan commissioner.
Based on the panel decision, NatConnect Foundation wrote to the committee on Tuesday, expressing apprehensions over the destruction of mangroves and debris at Belpada.
“The local fishing community is worried over the loss of their source of livelihood and this must be addressed. On one hand, mangroves are being destroyed but an ecological park is being planned right next to it. I have appealed to the HC committee to keep the park project on hold and clear the free flow of tidal waters to mangroves, restore the wetland, and then commence their plans,” said BN Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation.
The Belpada area has been officially identified as a wetland under the National Wetland Inventory Atlas, Maharashtra. However, Koli and other fishers alleged that 450 hectares of natural areas were buried and landfilled in 2018-19 without any clearance permission from the HC or the state’s coastal authority. “JNPT had responded to our right to information query stating that they had not destroyed anything at Belpada,” said Koli.
Natural areas lost in Uran, alleges traditional fishing community
In a fresh complaint to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, the traditional fishing forum has alleged reclamation by state agencies such as JNPT, City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd., and Special Economic Zone across Uran areas in 2019-20 --like Sheva island where 100 ha has been allotted for a tank farm, 600 ha for truck parking, 90 ha for road widening, 118 ha for expansion of a police station at Jaskhar, 100 ha near Belpada through debris dumping, and 300 hectare across the proposed JNPT SEZ. “Also, obstructions have been created in the creek estuaries of Sheva, Jaskhar, Sonari, Belpada etc.,” Koli’s complaint to CM said.