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In just 5 years, Mumbai has lost mangroves the size of 15 Wankhede stadiums

The committee’s report comes a few weeks after the State of the Forest Report 2017 reported a 33% increase in mangrove cover in Mumbai

mumbai Updated: Mar 07, 2018 09:57 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mangroves,Wankhede
The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005. (HT File Photo)

Even as the Union environment ministry reported an increase in Mumbai’s mangrove forest cover, a Bombay high court (HC)-appointed committee for mangrove preservation said the city has lost at least 22 hectares of mangroves between 2013 and 2018.

Reji Abraham, a member of the committee formed in October 2016 to preserve mangroves in Konkan region, which include Mumbai, said the destruction happened at two sites in Malad-Malwani and in Charkop. The green cover lost is 15 times the area of Wankhede stadium (area: 1.48 hectares).

The committee’s report comes a few weeks after the Forest Survey of India’s State of the Forest Report 2017 reported a 33% increase in mangrove cover in Mumbai, with the suburbs recording a 16 sqkm (1,600 hectares) increase from 2015, taking the tally to 64 sqkm (6,400 hectares).

Abraham alleged debris was being dumped across a 14.2-hectare patch opposite the Indian Navy Station, Hamla, Marve Road, Malad (West). In the second and third case, debris was dumped across 6.25-ha and 1.5-ha patches behind Evershine Nagar, Malad (West) and Charkop village, Kandivli. He submitted satellite images from 2005 and 2018 to show how the forest has been destroyed.

“Unabated destruction of mangrove trees continues in Mumbai without the fear of law. Land mafia, in connivance with civic officials and corrupt officers from the revenue department and mangrove cell, acquire land illegally through rabid dumping,” said Abraham, founder and president, United Association for Social, Educational and Public Welfare Trust. “In such a situation, the report regarding the rise in mangrove cover only seems to be a farce.”

The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005, after a public interest litigation (PIL) by the Bombay Environment Action Group. In 2014, based on a PIL filed by environment group Vanashakti, the HC banned reclamation and construction on wetlands.

“To avoid further contempt of court, we need strong prosecution of violators, removal of debris and regeneration of mangroves on priority,” said Abraham.

Officials from the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit (MMCU) under the state mangrove cell said they had begun investigating the cases. “Prima facie, as per our records, mangroves were not present at Evershine Nagar and Charkop prior to 2005, which does not make it a violation. However, we have issued notices and have begun on-ground surveys to rectify it. Violators in the INS Hamla case were booked last year, but we will pursue the matter with the district collector to ensure there is better deterrence,” said MM Panditrao, divisional forest officer, MMCU and member secretary of the HC committee.

Konkan commissioner Jagdish Patil, chairman of the mangrove committee, said, “Mangrove destruction cases are being dealt with utmost importance. We have already asked the land revenue department to superimpose the 2005 baseline maps of these mangrove areas and compare them with the current maps. The investigation is underway but we need time to close such large-scale cases.”

He said the action taken report in each case will be discussed during the next meeting on March 20.

First Published: Mar 07, 2018 08:45 IST