Illegal shanties at mangroves near Mumbai’s Versova will be demolished soon: Officials

After a suspicious fire, residents found shanties built on mangrove land near Versova

mumbai Updated: Jan 25, 2018 10:04 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mumbai news,mangroves
Residents who are monitoring the illegal reclamation of wetlands in the area, found over 500 shanties built on the destroyed mangroves(Pramod Thakur/HT Photo)

The suburban collector has issued orders for the demolition of illegal shanties that were constructed on 10-acres of destroyed mangroves.

After a suspicious fire in the mangroves near Versova last week, residents who are monitoring the illegal reclamation of wetlands in the area, found over 500 shanties built on the destroyed mangroves. The mangroves are located on private land (under the revenue department) along the Versova creek. Residents, who found debris, garbage and matchboxes in the area, filed complaints with the collector’s office and the state mangrove cell.

On Wednesday, the Mumbai suburban collector, along with officers from the revenue department, surveyed the area and ordered that the shanties be demolished within the next 10 days. “I personally visited the area, and found large-scale violations. These shanties have been built illegally after mangrove destruction. I have directed my deputy collector to begin demolition, and subsequent restoration of the mangrove patch,” said Deependra Singh Kushwa, Mumbai suburban collector.

HT journalists accompanied the residents to the mangroves earlier this week, and found that the shanties had electricity supply, direct-to-home (DTH) television services, and mobile toilets. They denied that they set fire to the mangroves.

“We have been living here for over 10 years under the protection of local politicians,” Anil Dubakar, one of the shanty owners. “However, we do not dump garbage or burn trees.”

“We never pay any rent, but every resident has a voter id card. We have been judiciously voting for all the political parties who have been regularly visiting us. They help us with all supplies we need every month,” said Meetabai, who runs a local shop within the mangrove patch.

It has been a common phenomenon to systematically destroy mangrove trees over months to reclaim land illegally, said environmental experts. “Encroachments dump sewage and garbage, which affects water quality in creek areas and is disastrous for any mangrove ecosystem. Migratory birds lose their habitat, a significant decline in fish and crustaceans are short-term impacts. Long-term impacts include high water pollution with a drop in dissolved oxygen to zero (amount of oxygen present in water for the survival of marine life) ,” said Shalaka Lalwani, urban planner and architect, working in the field of mangrove conservation for the past 15 years.

Residents said they were forced to take matters into their own hands owing to the pollution from the fires. “The fires have been deteriorating the air quality, and loss of mangroves is reducing the buffer zone from the creek,” said Suneet Gandhi, Yari Road resident.

“This area has become a hotbed for criminal activities. There was a murder reported in December and the body was discovered within the mangrove patch. The entire mangrove ecosystem is being degraded as wetland birds, crustaceans and other species are hardly being spotted because of these illegal hutments destroying their habitat,” said Sameer Kapoor, another resident.

THE LAW

Destruction of mangroves is illegal under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Bombay Environment Action Group, the Bombay High Court banned destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas in 2005.

LOCAL POLITICIANS CITE ENCROACHMENTS AS CAUSE OF FIRES

“We are aware about the presence of over 500 shanties at the site. The illegal settlements are the ones dumping garbage, burning it, and clearing the land for more houses. We have alerted the police and district administration about it. We want to construct a boundary wall or a fence to protect the area from further encroachment but the process will take time,” said Local BJP MLA Bharati Lavekar.

Land needs to be made reserved forest for better protection: Mangrove cell

“The residents have approached us, and we informed them that the area is a private mangrove forest. We have also told the collectors office about the violation. There is a need to transfer such areas to the mangrove cell for protection and fast removal of encroachments. The process is on-going and should be completed this year,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

Why mangroves are important:

Apart from stabilising coastlines, mangroves act as carbon sinks, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing them. This process is called carbon sequestration, and helps control global warming by reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere

Mangrove ecosystem is found along water bodies such as sea, creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons. They are commonly found in inter-tidal areas – area between the high and low tide.

Mangroves provide breeding areas for aquatic animals and are vital to sustain coastal fishing areas

In Maharashtra, mangroves are found along 222 sqkm of coastline covering 53 creeks and seashore

Close to 150 hectares of mangrove forests have been sanctioned to be lost for various development projects in Mumbai, including the proposed Navi Mumbai International airport and the civic body’s Coastal Road Project.

First Published: Jan 25, 2018 10:03 IST