Mangrove destruction: Forest dept files fresh report against INS Hamla
The mangrove cell of the state forest department on earlier this week (Monday) filed a fresh preliminary offence report, or a forest offence report, against the Indian Navy Station (INS) Hamla in Marve, Malad (West), for destroying mangroves at a 14.2 hectare (ha) plot near the naval station. The Western Naval Command has denied any such destruction. The mangrove cell has also written to INS Hamla to develop a forest conservation plan to ensure reclaimed areas are restored at the earliest.
“Since the scale of violation is visible at the site where mangroves have been destroyed, as directed by the Bombay high court (HC) in its order from September 2018, the mangrove cell has booked INS Hamla for this environmental violation. We will now assess the scale of violations and assess future course of action,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.
A similar offence report was filed against Sagarmatha Army Club in Colaba last month, for violating the Indian Forest Act, 1972. The Army has been accused of dumping construction debris on the seashore, which the Army said was done to create a barrier against sea erosion during monsoon.
On December 23, the state mangrove committee, appointed by the HC, directed that a fresh offence report be filed against the Navy station since the first information reports (FIRs) filed in 2016 and 2017 were unenforceable under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The act mandates that officers of the rank of sub-divisional officer or higher up to the district collector file an FIR with the police. Both FIRs were registered with the police by circle officers (talathi). The Mumbai suburban district administration has been directed by the committee to ensure the sub-divisional officer or a higher designation files the FIR.
Hindustan Times had first reported in 2016 that an FIR had been filed against a contractor appointed by the Navy station, for mangrove destruction across a 10 ha patch at the same site. The then district collector Deependra Singh Kushwa had imposed a fine of Rs. 75 crore on INS Hamla in 2017. However, the fine was later waived by the sub-divisional officer as INS is a Central government organisation and it was exempted from state penalty. In March 2018, environmentalist Reji Abraham had alleged that debris was dumped across a 14.2 ha area opposite the Navy station, which included a water body (Nausena Baug Lake). A day later (March 8), the revenue department confirmed that mangroves had been destroyed. The Navy had then said a boundary wall had been constructed to prevent unauthorised encroachment and to provide access for perimeter patrolling, shrubs and other smaller vegetation had been removed.
“Following several complaints over the past four years, I personally visited the site and can confirm that not a single mangrove tree was destroyed nor has there been any ecological damage,” said Commander Sridhar Warrier, chief public relations officer of the Navy’s Southern Naval Command. “In areas where the wall was constructed, no mangroves were ever present. All activities carried out have been done on land belonging to the Navy station, and consistent with the laid-down regulations. Any complaints in this regard are baseless with malicious intent,” he said.
A member of the HC-appointed committee said defence authorities have to be held accountable for environmental violations. “The Navy or the Army destroyed mangroves in land owned by them for non-defence purposes. It has been four years since these violations but nobody has been penalised. These agencies cannot be given special status when it comes to destruction of eco-sensitive zones,” said Stalin D, member of the committee.