Maharashtra to involve coastal villages protect state’s mangrove forests
To protect the state’s mangrove forests, the government is mulling to take help from the residents of 60 coastal villages. Maharashtra has 15,088 hectares of mangroves.
Last month, the government announced a new policy to protect mangroves on public and private land by creating ‘mangrove co-management committees’, which will include residents from villages located near the mangrove forests along the 720-km long coastline. These committees will be responsible for protecting the forests and using resources to generate jobs locally.
“The committees will prepare a long-term plan for conserving mangroves in their areas and take necessary action to protect and grow them,” read the government resolution (GR).
In Raigad, which has the largest stretch of mangrove forests in the state, 25 villages have been shortlisted for the project. Sindhudurg has 12 villages, Ratnagiri 10, Palghar nine and four from Thane. The government has set aside Rs15 crore for the project
Officials from state mangrove cell said by December 15, elections will be held in each village to select  members of the executive committee, which are expected to submit their first report by March.
“Mangrove conservation cannot be done in isolation. We have to involve the local residents along the coastline for safeguarding them,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “The idea is to form co-management committees, involving heads of the coastal panchayat and wards. They will protect, replant and demarcate mangrove patches.”
The conservation project includes programmes such as crab, oyster and prawn farming, other fishing-related activities and apiculture (beekeeping). Once initiated, locals can become part of these projects as individuals or in groups.
“The state will fund 90% of expenses incurred for group activities, while the rest will have to be borne by the committees. The funding will be 75% in case of individual projects,” said a senior state government official.
The government has recruited 15 graduates from the department of fisheries and another 10 will be hired by the October-end to train and educate residents of the villages.
“Once these graduates are trained, each of them will be in-charge of two to three villages. Through them, we will try to implement these livelihood programmes,” said Vasudevan, adding that from November 1, all graduates will be on-field.
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) was filed by the NGO Bombay Environment Action Group. In 2014, after Vanashakti filed another PIL on the protection of wetlands, the high court banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands.
Environment Protection Act, 1986 – Violation of the act leads to imprisonment up to five years, along with a minimum penalty of Rs25,000, depending on the violation.