Mangrove destruction cases doubled in Mumbai in 2018, but no convictions
The city recorded 275 cases of mangrove destruction in 2018, almost double of last year’s 138 and 141 cases in 2016, according to a year-end report by the state mangrove cell. While 271 cases were reported on government land in the city, four were in private forests.
Mumbai has 6,600 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover, with 6,400 ha in the suburbs and 200 ha in south Mumbai. Of this, close to 4,500 ha is on government-owned land and remaining in private areas.
Fifty-eight people– 35 from the western suburbs, 13 from other parts of the city, and 10 from Navi Mumbai – were arrested for violations of Indian Forest Act, 1927, Environment Protection Act, 1986, coastal regulation zone laws and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. A total of 44 vehicles were seized, and 1,881 shanties destroyed and cleared from mangrove forests.
On September 17, a division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Riyaz Chagla of the Bombay high court (HC) had ordered the state to launch criminal action against those who destroy mangroves. However, no convictions were reported this year so far.
“Almost 65% of the cases were related to debris dumping on mangrove forests this year, another 25% to setting up of slum settlements and structures on mangrove patches by land mafia, and remaining cases involved cutting of high tide water or isolated instances of mangroves being burnt or hacked,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “For the first time this year, we arrested violators for flamingo poaching and trapping Olive Ridley turtles.”
Ghodke said Malwani, Marwe, Dahisar, Borivli, and Charkop top the list of spots that see mangrove destruction. “Strict vigilance has been enforced in these areas with the help of staff from Maharashtra Security Force,” he said.
Mangrove cell officials said the rise in cases is owing to awareness among public, landmark court orders and better enforcement by the cell. “Complaints of mangrove destruction have risen as alert citizens file complaints, which are then attended to at the earliest,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “The increase in manpower and security (from what it was in 2012 when the mangrove cell was formed) and swift implementation of environment protection laws have helped. Conservation efforts will improve further with the construction of a compound wall and around-the-clock surveillance using CCTV cameras and satellite studies.”
“The government machinery has become more conscious of the fact that mangroves need to be protected with the formation of the state mangroves committee. The Konkan commissioner who heads the committee has been regularly reviewing the action taken by collectors, government agencies, and the law enforcement mechanism. Cases are being filed and the matter is being taken seriously,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust, that was the petitioner in the HC case.
Environmentalist Stalin D, who is also a member of the mangroves committee, had an alternate view. “Apart from the mangrove cell, no other state department is serious about conserving mangroves. With only one department putting in efforts without support, mangrove destruction cases are bound to increase. The rising tally of mangrove cases will be taken up in our committee meeting with all other state departments and planning authorities,” he said.