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652 cases of wetlands destruction filed across Maharashtra in 6 years

Most of the cases, 60%, were registered from Mumbai, Thane and Palghar.

mumbai Updated: Feb 02, 2018 09:50 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,mangroves,wetlands
In 2014, the Bombay high court (HC) banned reclamation and construction on wetlands after Vanashakti filed a petition to protect them. (HT File )

Even as court orders and government notifications mandate protection of the state’s wetlands, destruction of these ecologically sensitive areas continues unabated.

Between January 2012 and January 2018, there have been 652 cases of wetland destruction in the state, mostly for infrastructure developmental or residential purposes, reveals a report released by environment group Vanashakti to mark World Wetland Day [February 2].

The data reveals that wetlands between 2 hectares to 800 hectares have been destroyed or degraded by debris dumping or development of bunds that starves the area of tidal water. While maximum cases [60%] have been reported from Palghar, Thane and Mumbai, large-scale destruction of wetlands has been reported from all districts along the Konkan coast and interior areas.

“Despite having the scientific knowledge and data on the importance of wetlands, India, especially Maharashtra, continues to destroy them,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti. “Sadly, even the courts have failed to understand the complexities of wetlands and have permitted destruction by asking for mangroves to be planted in return for loss of wetlands. This has had a counterproductive result with bird habitats vanishing and making mangroves a tradeable commodity.”

In 2014, the Bombay high court (HC) banned reclamation and construction on wetlands after Vanashakti filed a petition to protect them. Stalin, who is a member of the wetland grievance redressal committee (WGRC), constituted by the court in August 2016 under the same petition, said the quantum of cases could not have been so much if not for active support from government machinery such as police and revenue department. “Municipal corporations from various areas in Thane, Palghar and Mumbai Metropolitan Region are ignorant about conserving or restoring these ecologically sensitive areas.”

As per national wetland atlas developed by the Union environment ministry, Maharashtra [3,07,713 sq km] has 10,145 sq km of wetlands, with 2,827 coastal wetlands, 20,219 inland wetlands, and 21,668 wetlands lesser than 2.25 hectare.

Members of the WGRC said 22 big cases of wetland destruction were reported from the after since the committee was constituted. “We have around 10 cases pending in which investigation is currently underway. However, a major drawback that we are facing is that complaints are lodged without identifying the exact coordinates of a location. As a result, finding these locations is difficult,” said JR Gowda, member secretary, WGRC and deputy conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “Illegal debris dumping on water bodies and mangrove land, destruction of mangrove trees, and illegal encroachments, are the major causes of wetland destruction in Maharashtra currently.”

In September last year, the union environment ministry notified new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 replacing the 2010 version. The new rules disallow industrial development, garbage dumping or discharge of wastewater at wetland sites across India. The rules directed states to constitute committees that would focus on wetland conservation.

A month later, the Supreme Court said Space Application Centre (SAC) under Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will take 12 to 18 months to develop an inventory of 1,75,740 wetlands in India. On the basis of this inventory, states were directed to develop a brief document identifying wetlands that were more than 2.25 hectare and protect them.

“Wetlands are diminishing in our county at a fast rate. It is likely that many more will disappear by the time the task is complete by the SAC,” reads an order passed by the SC on October 10, 2017.

Sanjay Upadhyay, SC advocate and environment lawyer, said even after new rules were notified to protect wetlands there was no application of mind for what was really needed to be protected.

“Exact wetland areas needed to be defined and protected long back but what we are relying today is only on revenue records. As a result, courts do not rely on revenue records only until a detailed study is done to identify wetlands. There is lack of implementation as the nodal authority at the centre or state level is dysfunctional across India,” he said, adding the new rules have not taken cognisance of the earlier process under 2010 notification, and so there is no relatability.

Gowda said it would take another year to develop the brief document for Maharashtra after SAC develops the inventory. “We expect the centre’s nod and final documentation and notification of Maharashtra’s wetlands post 2020,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jagdish Patil, Konkan commissioner and head of WGRC has directed all district collectors along the Konkan coast to nominate one wetland site from each district and declare it as eco-tourism destinations. “We have toll-free numbers and an interactive website that has the facility of accepting complaints and we urge citizens to inform us about wetland destruction in their area,” he said. “Before the brief document is ready, we are relying on wetlands identified under the national wetland atlas, and if the area is listed, strict action is being taken.”

First Published: Feb 02, 2018 09:50 IST