‘Navi Mumbai may lose its last remaining wetlands to devpt’
City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd.’s (Cidco) development plan (DP) for Dronagiri in Navi Mumbai marks the area’s last remaining wetlands for development, alleged environmentalists who have accessed the plan. All construction under the DP is on hold until the state decides whether certain areas, like Panje, will be demarcated as wetlands.
In February 2019, the state Cabinet gave its nod to convert 1,250 ha, which includes large tracts of mangroves and wetlands, into an industrial zone. At least 12 wetlands across 1,250 hectares (ha), which have been notified by Raigad district administration, are marked for development under the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ). This constitutes nearly half of the 2,700ha Dronagiri node. Cidco, the planning agency for the area, holds a 26% stake in NMSEZ while the rest is shared by private companies. Environment groups Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP) and NatConnect Foundation accessed the plan, of which HT has a copy.
According to it, approximately 233ha of Panje area has been earmarked as sectors numbering 16 to 28. Other wetland patches such as Bhandkhal and Pagote, identified as important bird areas by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), are also planned to be developed.
Lokesh Chandra, vice-chairman and managing director, Cidco, said all NMSEZ stakeholders had been directed to avoid any construction until the wetland authority under the district administration communicates the list of notified wetlands. “Once we are told which areas need to be protected, construction will be avoided there. We have received complaints from BNHS regarding environment destruction at Panje even though it is not a notified wetland. Such complaints have been shared with the Raigad collector,” he said. The Bombay high court (HC), in September 2018, had banned any kind of mangrove destruction as well as construction activity within 50 metres of mangroves. However, in December 2019, the HC allowed state agencies to cut 500 mangrove trees in Mumbai for infrastructure projects that were deemed to be in public interest.
Raigad collector Vijay Suryavanshi said, “There is no doubt that wetlands demarcated by us so far will remain protected. However, for areas like Panje, we have referred to the state to tell us whether the site is a wetland or not. A site visit has been scheduled in January.”
Last week, three cases were filed listing different environment violations, including complaints of mangrove destruction, at Panje, Bhendkhal and Pagote. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), in its affidavit to HC on November 1, 2019, declared holding ponds 1 and 2 (at Panje and Karanja respectively) to be under coastal regulation zone due to the presence of mangroves, which require protection. “Any activity proposed there requires examination and scrutiny by this authority,” MCZMA had said. However, both holding ponds have been marked in the DP.
“A cursory glance at the DP shows NMSEZ sectors’ boundaries extend into mangroves and water bodies. The layout does not show any eco-sensitive areas. There are several green belts which are mangroves, but these have been numbered as sectors,” said BN Kumar, director, NatConnect. Nandkumar Pawar of SEAP warned, “If this plan is executed, entire Uran will be flooded next monsoon and the local livelihood will perish.” Raigad district administration recently disclosed that 20 villages in Uran were flooded during the monsoon because of bunds. “Despite knowing those wetlands should not be constructed on, they [Cidco] have made a DP to destroy them. These actions will be exposed before the HC-committee and the courts,” said Stalin D, member of the HC-appointed state mangrove and wetland committee.