Maharashtra fishermen claim 800 hectare of wetlands destroyed in Uran
Fishermen’s associations and environment groups have complained that 800 hectares (8 sq km) of wetlands have been destroyed for different projects at Dronagiri node of Navi Mumbai.
In a complaint filed this week, with the state environment department, Konkan commissioner and WGRC, fishermen from five villages, represented by Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP), have alleged that the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (CIDCO), the development agency for Navi Mumbai, and private companies are reclaiming wetlands by debris dumping and blocking the flow of tidal water in these areas.
“Mangroves forests have been reclaimed for various projects and has taken away the source of livelihood of the fishing villages. Systematic killing of mangroves is underway by obstructing tidal water and drying out the trees. This is followed by debris dumping and levelling at several locations, which have become barren and ready for construction,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, SEAP.
Dilip Koli, a local resident, said wetland near the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) project, which received the Maharashtra cabinet nod on Tuesday, will be converted into an integrated industrial area. It is CIDCO’s pet project.
“Some of the wetlands falls in NMSEZ as well. At three separate locations, large-scale reclamation is underway. On one patch, CIDCO-hired contractors are dumping debris close to the creek. On the other, a few private companies have constructed bunds blocking the flow of creek water to the wetlands. Thousands of mangrove trees have died,” Pawar said.
This is not the first time the fishing community has alleged such a violation. In October 2013, Ramdas Koli moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with regard to the impact of development projects by the public sector units on the tidal waters that affected livelihood of 1,630 residents across four villages in Uran and Panvel talukas.
In March 2015, the western bench of the NGT ordered CIDCO, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to pay Rs95.19 crore to 1,630 families in three months. However, the respondents managed to get a stay from the Supreme Court. In August 2015, the SC bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Amitav Roy ordered CIDCO to comply with the NGTs order and directed the body to pay a compensation of Rs10 crore to the fishing communities.
“It seems we need to reach out to the courts again, as it does not seem like this large-scale reclamation will stop anytime soon,” said Koli.
Stalin D, director of environment group Vanshakti said port buildings, offices, cafeterias, industrial godowns and container yards, will be built at Dronagiri soon.
“The site is one of the largest wetland areas in India and home to more than 2 million migratory birds. This is the largest wetland destruction case in the state’s history and a monumental environmental crime. The financial and cultural loss to the coastal community has never been quantified and they are the biggest losers on the human side. Today, whatever fragments are left are also being filled up and CIDCO is among the biggest destroyer of coastal wetlands in the state,” he said.
Despite repeated attempts, non of the private companies responded to the queries. However, officials from CIDCO refuted allegations levelled by the fishing community.
“We had directed our engineers to visit the site and as per the report submitted by our engineering department, CIDCO has not taken any developmental activities in that area. No wetlands have been destroyed. We are not aware whether any private company has carried out any development,” said Mohan Ninawe, senior public relations officer, CIDCO.
Meanwhile, members of WGRC discussed the matter during a meet earlier this week. “We have directed the local district collector to submit details regarding the complaint. Simultaneously, we are in the process of comparing the site location to check whether it is present in the National Wetland Atlas, Maharashtra state. If it is, then we will initiate action,” said Jagdish Patil, Konkan commissioner.
“Our field officers visited the site but since the complainant failed to accompany them, we have not been able to identify the exact location of the violation. We have asked the complainant to share the exact coordinates, after which another site visit will be undertaken,” said JR Gowda, member secretary, of the HC committee.
State government officials said there can be no violation under wetland rules as the site is a coastal area. “Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 cannot be applied to this complaint as any violation in this area can only be investigated under Coastal Regulation Zone notification, 1991. Our department will check whether there has been any ecological destruction and we will also consult all departments to help us with the investigation if the alleged violation is true,” said Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary, state environment department.