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MMR growth risks bird habitat, Navi Mumbai airport

The proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) is staring at another trouble, this time from birds.

mumbai Updated: Jun 04, 2019 01:53 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Navi Mumbai,Navi Mumbai airport,MMR growth
HT has a copy of the report, which will be submitted to the state and the HC-appointed state mangroves committee this month. This is the second such report by BNHS in five years. (HT Photo)

Residential and commercial projects in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region are eating up habitats of migratory birds, which may have to turn to the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport for their new home. A year-long study by Bombay Natural History Society, called ‘Coastal Wetlands and waterbirds of Navi Mumbai: Current Status’, found 2.5 lakh birds will be forced out of their habitats and will spend more time in the air, or on the airport’s runway, increasing chances of bird hits and risking safety of flights.

The proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) is staring at another trouble, this time from birds.

Development activities for residential and commercial purposes are destroying five large mudflat bird habitats in the MMR, part of the Central Asian Flyway, according to a year-long study by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) titled ‘Coastal Wetlands and waterbirds of Navi Mumbai: Current Status’. It states that “a quarter of a million [2.5 lakh] birds will spend more time in the air forming large flocks or settling along green patches closer to the runway, increasing chances of bird hits or leading to difficulty during takeoff or landing at NMIA”.

HT has a copy of the report, which will be submitted to the state and the HC-appointed state mangroves committee this month. This is the second such report by BNHS in five years.

The BNHS recommended that all development activities be stopped at these five zones –– Panje, Bhendkhal, Belpada (in Uran), and Training Ship Chanakya (TSC) wetland, NRI Complex (both in Navi Mumbai). “Any loss of this habitat will compromise air safety of NMIA,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

All five wetlands witnessed a mammoth rise in human settlements and expansion of mangrove cover over the past 50 years, resulting in overall reduction in mudflat space, found BNHS, comparing high-resolution satellite images from 1973, 1987, 2002 and 2018. “In order to protect bird habitats there needs to be a balance of mangrove cover and open mudflats,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

Across Bhendkhal, Belpada and Panje wetlands, which are the only remaining sites for residential birds like purple moorhens, Eurasian coots, spot-billed ducks and pheasant-tailed Jacana, land filling and excavation of this wetland has eradicated their breeding grounds. Similarly, TSC and NRI wetlands serve as refuge areas for large flocks (over 6,000 combined) of lesser and greater flamingos, ducks and other waders. “Resting grounds for migratory birds such as ducks, godwits, ruffs and marsh sandpipers are being destroyed,” said Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS.

Cidco, which owns 26% stake in building NMIA and owns most of the land where these wetlands are located, said it was yet to study the issue. “The BNHS was appointed by Cidco to understand how bird movement in this area would affect the NMIA. I have not seen this report yet,” said Lokesh Chandra, vice-chairman and managing director, Cidco.

Meanwhile, the HC-appointed committee issued directions to Raigad district administration last month to stop reclamation in Uran. “The wetlands are 75% reclaimed. The state has allowed it,” said Stalin D, member of the committee. “The Raigad administration earlier said 131 wetlands had been identified within the district. However, the state environment department needs to send a notification to ensure protection,” said Neenu Somraj, member secretary of the committee.

“Over 60% of the proposed zone for the airport has been filled up with up to 7m of soil dumping,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

First Published: Jun 04, 2019 01:53 IST