Panje not a wetland, says Maharashtra mangrove committee
The state wetland and mangrove committee on Tuesday said that despite Panje in Navi Mumbai possessing characteristics of a wetland, it cannot be considered one because the area is not designated as such in the National Wetland Atlas. However, the committee recognised Bhendkhal is a wetland and directed Raigad district administration and City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (Cidco) to remove debris from the site. Cidco said Bhendkhal will be restored within two weeks.
In June, Cidco set up private security at eight sites, including Panje and Bhendkhal, denying citizens access to them. Multiple complaints were filed against Cidco and these were addressed on Tuesday by the wetland and mangrove committee, appointed as per the directions of the Bombay high court (HC). “There is no denying Panje has high tide water ingress and huge avian biodiversity. However, on checking the National Wetland Atlas, Panje was never identified officially as a wetland while Bhendkhal was,” said Neenu Somraj, member secretary of the committee and deputy conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.
National Wetland Atlas: Maharashtra was published in 2011. In order for new areas to be designated wetlands, they must be identified as such by the state. Konkan commissioner and chairperson of the committee Shivaji Daunde said, “There is lack of data on exact sites identified as wetlands in the past and confusion as far as freshly-identified sites. The committee has asked for detailed reports from district collectors to address these issues. However, as discussed in the meeting, Panje is not a wetland.”
Wildlife research group Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has reiterated Panje is a wetland and that the nearby Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) is likely to endanger the area’s bird population. “It is suicidal not to recognise Panje as a wetland,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.
Experts pointed out that the National Wetland Atlas is not up to date. “There are millions of wetlands across the country that have not been identified in this atlas,” said Dr Asad Rahmani of Wetlands International South Asia. “This does not mean we can alienate these zones and begin construction activity. Updating such lists of wetlands is a continuous process and cannot be left to eight-year-old studies.”
Cidco welcomed the committee’s decisions on both Panje and Bhendkhal. “We will ensure the area [Panje] is preserved for bird enthusiasts,” said Pramod Patil, nodal officer (environment), Cidco. “As far as Bhendkhal is concerned, owing to heavy rain, debris removal was delayed. However, within the next two weeks, the site will be restored.”