After Versova mangrove destruction case, Mumbai suburban collector ready with action plan
A day after HT reported that 53 bungalows at Versova are set to face police action for mangrove destruction, the Mumbai suburban collector said they are ready with a five-step action plan to check violations in the future.
As a part of the crackdown, 12 maps will be prepared with the help of the state mangrove cell for Mumbai suburbs, segregated into already existing survey numbers, to check the year-on-year destruction of mangrove forests for swift identification and action against recent violations.
Mumbai has 5,775 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover, of which, 4,000 ha is on the government-owned land (protected forest areas). While 277 ha of the mangrove cover on the government land is in Mumbai city, 3,723 ha is in Mumbai suburbs.
The Mumbai suburban collector on Wednesday asked the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) to register police complaints against the owners of 53 Versova bungalows, including actor Kapil Sharma, for destroying mangrove forests in their backyard to illegally expand their homes. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been directed to demolish illegal extensions over the next month.
“When the violation first came to light in September, we began putting together a detailed action plan to crack down on such cases faster,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, Mumbai suburban collector. “There are two types of mangrove destruction cases observed by us: debris dumping on mangrove trees and illegal construction within 50 metres of mangroves. The idea is to restrict violations through deterrence and implementation of better technology.”
The five-step action plan includes taking cognisance of a case with the help of the concerned department (state mangrove cell for violations on government land and revenue department for violations on private land), following it up with local police, coordinating with the civic body to remove debris or illegal extensions and directing the mangrove cell or landowner to restore the site with fresh mangrove plantations.
Kushwa added that the fifth and final step would be to check the overall status of the mangrove cover using satellite maps. The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay High Court in 2005. In 2014, the court banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands.
“Soon after the HC order in 2005, a baseline map of Mumbai’s mangrove cover was put in place. Using this map as reference, satellite images of every city survey number (land records) from Mumbai suburbs from 2006 to 2017 are being developed,” said Kushwa. “The maps have been made during the dry months of March and April so that the violations are clear as opposed to the monsoon season.”
He added the majority of the maps are already ready and after recording 2017’s map by April, the data will be made public. “This will help citizens file complaints highlighting data on record with the authorities. We will be strictly monitoring such cases and results will be reflected soon,” said Kushwa.
WHAT ARE MANGROVES?
Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants, trees, shrubs or ground fern of tropical and subtropical intertidal regions of the world. The specific regions where these plants occur are termed as ‘mangrove ecosystem’. These are highly productive but extremely sensitive and fragile. Besides mangroves, the ecosystem also harbours other plant and animal species.
Mangrove destruction cases on private land
For mangroves on private land in Mumbai, data from the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office identifed 122 mangrove destruction cases in 2016, of which enquiry is pending in seven cases. While there have been arrests, no convictions have happened for violations on private land as well. Violations in 2016 included the Kapil Sharma case where two first information reports (FIRs) were filed against comedian actor for destroying mangroves at his Versova bungalow.