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33 man-made lakes are out of list, Thane sees 99.5% dip in wetlands

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
UPDATED ON FEB 12, 2020 04:42 PM IST

Wetland numbers in Thane district have dropped by 99.5% with all human-made lakes in the area excluded under the new rules.

Out of 132 selected wetland sites, the district administration has verified and proposed only eight for final notification to the state government.

The final eight wetlands proposed come under four tehsils--Navi Mumbai (2.97 hectare (ha) in Darawe, 24.62 ha Jewel in Nerul and 4.47 ha Jijamata Bhot Khadi in Ghansoli), Uttan (5.21 ha Margali Talao), Kalyan (2.29 ha Utane and 4.53 ha Nilje), and Bhiwandi (3.16 ha Vadape and 45.6 ha Varala talao).

No wetlands have been proposed in Ulhasnagar, Shahpur, and Murbad. The total proposed wetland area is 92.85 ha.

As per the National Wetland Atlas (Maharashtra) based on the wetland rules from 2010, 1,895 wetlands were identified across 59,936 ha.

This means there is a 99.5% drop in number of wetlands and 99.8% drop in wetland area for Thane district. Moreover, none of the 33 manmade lakes listed by the municipal corporation within Thane city have been marked as wetlands. The details were accessed by members of the expert committee constituted by the Thane collector in January 2019. The committee had been tasked with surveying 132 identified wetlands under the new rules, site verification, and studying their biodiversity. The committee’s report to the collector had verified 116 of 132 sites as wetlands.

A senior official from the Thane collector’s office in-charge of the exercise, requesting anonymity said ,“Tehsildars and circle officers carried out the field verification exercise and drafted the final list. While the state is yet to notify these eight wetlands finally, objections from citizens can be filed before the state wetland authority or grievance redressal committee,” he added.

Expert committee members have already filed their objections before the grievance redressal committee, requesting reasons why major wetland zones were left out. Members suggested that experts in the form of hydrologists, zoologists, botanists or entomologists should have carried out the exercise instead of revenue officers.

“India is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention; the Union environment ministry follows it, but the state environment department does not follow the same, [which] is a breach in itself. I cannot see any reason why the environment department wants to reduce the number of wetlands. We are already facing groundwater depletion and major flooding issues by indiscriminate constructions on these wetlands. Wetlands are absolutely essential for human existence and it is about the ‘right to live’ as per the Constitution,” said Clara Correia, zoologist and member of the expert committee.

Another member, Avniash Bhagat, said most areas had been opened up to facilitate real estate development across Thane. “Wetlands were mapped under the National Atlas in 2006-07. Since then, large number of wetlands were lost due to construction. Now, under the guise of new rules only a handful of sites remain leading to an overall loss of biodiversity and ecological values. Even natural lakes that were fenced off with concrete have been marked as human-made water bodies,” he said.

Sanjay Sandashiv, undersecretary, environment department, said, “New rules are stringent and districts have only followed the guidelines under these regulations. Artificial or human-made waterbodies have been excluded across the state.

The petitioner before the Bombay high court (HC) in the wetlands matter Stalin D said, “Calling for citizens objections after finalising wetland sites is harassment and is not acceptable. The state has played mischief and is contempt of court. Revenue officers should not take over the role of scientists. All these issues will be put forth before the HC.”

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