Mumbai The city’s mangrove forests, which face ever-growing threat from encroachers, will soon be protected by armed security personnel.The Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit (MMCU) has hired 108 security personnel from the Maharashtra State Security Corporation (MSSC) to protect mangrove forests and provide assistance while rescuing marine animals.Of the 108 security officers, 12 will be armed with pellet guns, said the forest department. So far, the state mangrove cell had only 18 officers manning mangrove forests in the city after the state mangrove cell was formed in 2012. “The department has been understaffed for more than five years now. This boost in manpower will help us track cases much faster, and ensure better deterrence,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, MMCU. “Apart from on-ground surveillance, the officers will monitor complaints from our head office in Bandra, help carry out demolition drives and even marine mammal rescues.”Destruction of mangroves is illegal under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Bombay Environment Action Group, the Bombay high court banned destruction of mangrove forests across Maharashtra and construction within 50 metres of mangrove areas in 2005.More than 100 cases of mangrove destruction, both on private and government land, were reported from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) last year. Most of the case were related to debris dumping, burning of mangrove trees and hacking mangrove trees. The MMC has identified areas such as Colaba, Cheeta Camp and Mandala in Trombay, Malwani, Kandivli, Borivli and Vikhroli — where the security officers will be deployed. “The special-ops security personnel will work in three shifts with at least two to three guards stationed at each location. Each area will also have one supervisor and an assistant security officer, who will be reporting to the cell,” said Milind Panditrao, divisional forest officer, state mangrove cell. “These officers have powers to take action under Environment Protection Act, 1986, and can book offenders. The group is well equipped to deal with mangrove destruction cases, and a special flying squad has also been deployed to tackle complaints on priority basis.