Maharashtra: Uran fishermen allege indiscriminate destruction of mangroves, oppose JNPT’s park proposal
Alleging that the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) has been indiscriminately destroying mangroves and wetlands in Uran, traditional fishermen have opposed the proposed mangrove park by the country’s largest container port.
JNPT last week announced that it had planned to build a 200-hectare (ha) mangrove (eco) park to protect dense mangrove patches and house visiting galleries, mangrove walkthroughs (boardwalks), a nature interpretation centre, and a nursery with rare mangrove species, at Belpada in Uran at a cost of Rs5 crore for the first phase.
However, the Paramaparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti (Save Traditional Fishermen’s Action Committee) said the park was planned on buried mangrove forests and wetlands of Belpada. The group wrote to environment minister Aaditya Thackeray on Tuesday, pointing out that the community had lost its age-old source of income due to projects by JNPT that had destroyed their livelihood.
“Such plans cannot be tolerated,” said Dilip Koli, a fisherman leader, adding that they had been fishing in inter-tidal waters for decades but instead of protecting the community’s rights, state agencies such as JNPT had put a stop to fishing within their jurisdiction owing to reclamation of natural areas.
“This led to a substantial drop in even our fish catch, rendering many fishers penniless even during this difficult pandemic phase,” said Tukaram Koli, another fisher, calling it a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
In October 2013, fisherman Ramdas Koli had moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT), western bench, against development projects by JNPT that affected the livelihood of residents of Uran, Hanuman Koliwada, Gavhan, and Belpada, with 1,630 families in the area dependent on fishing. In March 2015, in a landmark order, NGT directed JNPT, City Industrial Development Corporation and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to pay Rs95.19 crore to the 1,630 families within three months. However, the order was stayed by the Supreme Court after state agencies challenged it.
“Even the National Human Rights Commission had ruled in our favour after NGT did, yet we continue to suffer,” said Koli.
The memorandum to Thackeray further said that while farmers were given titles under 7/12 extract (land extract maintained by the revenue department), fishermen do not get any such title. “Thus we do not get any compensation and lose our source of income when the government acquires land,” said Koli.
According to the Raigad district administration, several cases of mangrove destruction were reported between November 2019 and January 2020 from areas under JNPT’s jurisdiction. Around 7,000 mangrove trees (across a 6ha patch with approximately 5,500 trees and a 1.2ha patch with 1,500 trees) were found dried up and destroyed for JNPT’s 4th container terminal project. In November 2019, contractors appointed by JNPT paid a fine of Rs1 lakh to the district administration for destroying 4,550 mangrove trees across 4.5ha for the same project, followed by a case filed before the Panvel court. Subsequently, another 4,000-odd mangrove trees were found destroyed during the expansion of a road leading up to the terminal.
Panvel district officer Dattatreya Navale said, “This year we have not received such serious complaints. Complaints received are either false or repetitive from previous years. The plan for the mangrove park is a welcome idea as it will provide security to eco-sensitive zones.”
JNPT said they were not aware of the fishing community’s submissions. “The park is purely for the purpose of mangrove protection, safety, and citizen awareness. We remain a socially conscious organisation, committed to the environment, community, stakeholders, employees and the industry,” said a JNPT official, requesting anonymity.
Environment group NatConnect Foundation, which had campaigned for the mangrove park, said restoration was key. “JNPT should open blockages, restore tidal water flow, and remove illegally dumped debris at natural areas. They must start respecting mangroves and wetlands and pay for losses so far,” said BN Kumar, director, NatConnect Foundation.
“The mangrove park is reprehensible since it is planned on illegally landfilled coastal regulation zone (CRZ-I) areas,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishthan, the environment group highlighting the fishing community’s demand. “The mangrove ecosystem is unique and it doesn’t require any human intervention. It can protect itself if just left alone.”