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No action taken against 53 bungalow owners in Mumbai for encroaching on mangroves: NGO

Owners have allegedly built extensions into the mangroves along the one-km stretch near Janki Devi school in Andheri.

mumbai Updated: Nov 11, 2017 15:01 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,mangrove enchroachment,mangrove destruction
NGO Watchdog Foundation had filed a complaint with the forest department, suburban collector and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in March, alleging negligence in investigating the case.(Hindustan Times)

The police and the municipal corporation have not taken punitive action against the owners of 53 bungalows who have encroached into mangrove forests in Versova, despite a First Information Report (FIR) being filed in March, a citizens’ group has complained.

NGO Watchdog Foundation had filed a complaint with the forest department, suburban collector and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in March, alleging negligence in investigating the case. “The lethargic and indifferent attitude of the authorities, especially the police and BMC, needs to be condemned. They are not taking proactive action over the past year, and as a result these violators are going scot-free,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.

The bungalow owners have built extensions to their home in the mangroves along the 1-km stretch near Janki Devi Public School, Andheri (West). The incident came to light after comedian-actor Kapil Sharma was booked in September 2016 for illegal extensions at his bungalow, less than 50m from mangroves, which is a violation as per Bombay high court orders and the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which prohibits destruction of mangrove forests. The state mangrove cell then began investigating and found that other bungalows along the road have similarly encroached forest land.

Mangroves are a vital coastal ecosystem as it acts as a buffer against severe tidal events. The forests are also important for the survival of marine flora and fauna. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 recognises a Coastal Regulation Zone in which industrial and other activities such as discharge of untreated water and effluents, dumping of waste, land reclamation and bunding are restricted in order to protect the coastal environment. Mangroves are included in the most ecologically sensitive category.

Investigations in the Versova case had revealed that of 73 bungalows in the area, 66 had violated the Environment Protection Act by encroaching on mangrove land and a report was submitted to collector’s office. The latter’s investigation revealed that 53 of 66 bungalows did not have permissions for extensions and had encroached in less than 50m of mangroves. Following this, an FIR was filed.

Officials from the collectors’ office told HT that several reminders had been sent to the Mumbai police to file a charge sheet against violators. However, no action has been taken, said officials. “We have sent four reminders to the BMC to investigate the issue under various sections of the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act (MRTP) since March, and check what clearances their departments have given to these owners over the years for extensions to the bungalows,” said Nitin Mahajan, additional collector, Mumbai suburban. “We have not received a single response from the either the police or BMC so far.”

Mumbai police officials said that the process of filing the charge sheet was underway. “The matter is under investigation. The statement of three bungalow owners is pending. The process will be completed soon and we will be submitting the charge sheet in court,” said Kiran Kale, senior police inspector, Versova police station.

The state mangrove cell, who conducted preliminary enquiry in the matter, slammed the slow pace of investigation. “We have written to the collector’s office to hand over mangrove destruction on private land to us, so that there is speedy enquiry and swift action is taken against violators,” said a senior mangrove cell official.

BMC officials said notices have been sent to several bungalows under MRTP already. “Following the Kapil Sharma case, we carried out demolition of illegal extensions at a few bungalows. We have also issued notices under MRTP to several bungalows that were unable to provide certificates. We are awaiting their response. However, the process is on and will take some time to be completed. A report will be submitted to the collector’s office within a month,” said Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner and ward officer.

Timeline: The Versova mangrove destruction story

September 9, 2016: Kapil Sharma complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter about alleged corruption in the BMC. Following this, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had promised to take strict action. BMC officials asked Sharma to reveal the names of the corrupt officials. However, the tweet backfired when BMC officials said there was a violation by the comedian himself

September 10, 2016: Two complaints were filed by two different city-based activists with Versova Police station against Sharma for alleged dumping of debris at wetlands and destruction of mangroves near his office

September 12, 2016: State mangrove cell officials led by assistant conservator of forests, Makarand Ghotge said that there was a violation through destruction of mangroves after they visited the site and would be submitting a report to the Mumbai suburban collector

September 17, 2016: On the basis of state mangrove cells report, the Andheri tehsildar (revenue official) carried out a detailed investigation of the area

September 18, 2016: A first-information-report (FIR) was filed against actor-comedian Kapil Sharma by the Versova police after the Andheri tehsildar cited a violation of Environment Protection Act, 1986. No arrest was made

October 2, 2016: Citing a violation under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, Makarand Ghotge and other officials from the state mangrove cell were investigating nearly 50 to 60 houses that had encroached on wetlands along a 400m stretch and submitted a report to the revenue department

October 25, 2016: Ghodke was transferred to a desk job of a statistician at the office of the chief conservator of forests, Thane, according to the transfer order from the state government

November 21, 2016: The officer reinstated as assistant conservator of forest, mangroves protection unit and given back powers to investigate mangrove violations at Andheri (West)

November 23, 2016: Mangrove cell identifies 66 of 73 bungalow owners violating the Environment Protection Act by encroaching on mangrove land at Versova, Andheri (West). Report submitted to collector’s office

November 24, 2016: Mumbai suburban collector directs probe at the site and issues notices to BMC and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority which had allotted the bungalow plots

January 8, 2017: Notices issued to 53 of 66 bungalows to respond within two weeks regarding violation of Environment Protection Act (EPA)

February 9, 2017: Mumbai suburban collector directs MHADA to initiate action against the bungalows for mangrove destruction

March 5, 2017: MHADA fails to initiate action and Mumbai suburban collector instructs his sub-divisional magistrate to file FIR against 53 bungalows. Versova police begins investigation

May-October, 2017: Mumbai suburban collector’s office sends four reminders to BMC and Mumbai police to complete investigation and submit details in court. No response from either of the authorities

November2017: Mumbai police tells HT that the process of filing the charge sheet is underway and should be completed soon

First Published: Nov 11, 2017 15:00 IST