Maharashtra govt not demarcating coastal wetlands deliberately: Environmentalists
Four years after the Bombay high court (HC) banned the destruction of wetlands across the state, a fresh government exercise to demarcate wetlands has left out the coastal portions, claim environmentalists who have taken matters to court.
The petitioner in the HC matter, Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti, filed a complaint with the environment ministry at the Union and state level on Tuesday, alleging wetlands demarcated under the Maharashtra National Wetland Atlas 2011 are being opened up for development activities.
“While speaking to government officials deputed to survey wetlands, I was told that demarcation of coastal wetlands in various districts is being omitted. This is shocking as the state is deliberately not categorising these wetlands in coastal areas to allow builders to exploit it,” said Stalin, who is also a committee member of the wetland grievance redressal committee constituted by the state as per HC orders.
Wetlands are areas that are either temporarily or permanently covered with water, depending on the season variability and home to a large plant and aquatic biodiversity.
In September 2017, the Union environment ministry notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules replacing the 2010 version. The new rules do not incorporate wetlands in coastal regulation zones (CRZ) and derecognised salt pans as wetlands. New CRZ rules promulgated by the Centre on December 30 also relaxed previous norms and increased floor space index up to 3 from 1.33 for Mumbai city and 1 to 2.7 for suburbs.
“Wetland demarcation for inland areas has been completed for Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts. We have not identified coastal wetlands because we are only following the notification passed by the Centre. Representations can be made to the state regarding areas that need protection and we will consider them,” said a senior official from the state environment department.
N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said, “In a scientific sense, all mangroves and mudflats form wetland areas but in a strictly legal sense, they are excluded from the purview of wetland rules since they are governed by another set of rules.”
However, conservationists pointed out those coastal wetlands are equally important as inland wetlands and their destruction will increase the probability of flood.
“Coastal wetlands are home to migratory birds and fish species that form a major portion of the food web, which is likely to be completely destroyed. Anthropogenic activities will only increase with the example of Thane creek where construction is ongoing right up to the edge of the creek despite the area being a flamingo sanctuary,” said Goldin Quadros, a wetland ecologist at the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History.
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