Environment ministry’s CRZ amendment ends debate on inland mangrove protection in Mumbai Metropolitan Region
The notification could protect mangrove forests in Uran and Dronagiri where the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone — an integrated industrial township — has been planned.
The Union environment ministry’s latest amendment to the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms ends speculations by planning agencies in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) that claimed artificially created “inland mangroves” need not be protected.
The notification dated May 1 was published by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) on its website on Wednesday amending the CRZ 2011 norms stating mangrove forests developed towards the landward side due to saltwater flow from sluice gates or bunds, mainly identified as inland mangroves, need to be protected under the coastal protection notification.
“Provided that in case there exists a bund or a sluice gate constructed in the past, prior to February 19, 1991, the high tide line (HTL) shall be restricted up to the line along the bund or sluice gate and in such a case, area under mangroves arising due to saline water ingress beyond the bund or sluice gate shall be classified as CRZ-IA irrespective of the extent of the area beyond the bund or sluice gate. Such areas under mangroves shall be protected and shall not be diverted for any developmental activities,” the notification said.
The notification could protect mangrove forests in Uran and Dronagiri where the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone — an integrated industrial township — has been planned. A Bombay high court (HC) order from September 2018 had made it clear that mangroves anywhere in Maharashtra cannot be destroyed and the notification reiterates the declaration.
In 2015, the City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (Cidco), the planning agency for Navi Mumbai, had claimed that mangroves that had grown in holding ponds (for high tide water connected to sluice gates mainly at Panje, Karanje and Koparkhairne) were not protected under the CRZ notification since they were “inland mangroves”. Cidco had filed an application in the HC in the public interest litigation (87 of 2006) originally filed by environmentalist Debi Goenka where the claim was made.
“This notification, once and for all, settles the issue that all mangroves are protected under the CRZ notification and that all embankments and sluice gates built without valid permissions after February 19, 1991, are illegal,” said Goenka. “Hopefully, the Panje wetlands and all the other mangroves in Navi Mumbai will have to be protected by Cidco.”
Pramod Patil, nodal officer (environment), Cidco said, “The sluice gates in Uran were constructed sometime during 1994-95. The case was made at the time in 2015-16 due to rapid mangrove growth that was happening post-construction of the bunds and gates, which was causing inconvenience during monitoring of the holding ponds under our jurisdiction. However, following the HC order from September 2018, mangroves, irrespective of their location, are provided the highest protection status within our jurisdiction.”
Goenka alleged that since the construction of the gates happened post the CRZ 1991 notification, they had been illegally built. “While the sluice gates had not been properly maintained (by Cidco themselves), the planning agency made several efforts to destroy mangrove trees within Navi Mumbai and Uran. Pursuant to the notice of motion, the HC in 2016 had directed the MoEF to give us a hearing and had asked the MoEF to decide on this issue. However, despite the hearing held February 29, 2016, no formal order was passed by the ministry then,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state mangrove cell welcomed MoEFCC’s amendment. “It is a good development and gives legal protection to especially those areas where safety measures were proposed to be reduced due to the claim that they were inland mangroves,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove cell).
Why the amendment?
MoEFCC’s amended comes after the Goa government made a request to demarcate the HTL (the extent to which coastal waters can reach the farthest on land) along embankments even if they were breached.
Independent experts said the consequences of the amendment need to be studied for all other coastal zones to check the impact it would have on constructions planned in the future across CRZ areas.