Path clear for Navi Mumbai golf course
Opening doors for a golf course and apartment complex, two major wetland zones – Training Ship Chanakya (TSC) and NRI Complex – in Navi Mumbai have been excluded from the final wetland list proposed by the district administration. While the move has irked locals and activists, the environment department stated citizens can file their objections.
The 14-hectare (ha) TSC and 21.9-ha NRI Complex, which constitute the Talawe wetlands and are home to thousands of migratory birds during winter, were marked as protected wetlands under the National Wetland Atlas 2011, Maharashtra state. The state’s wetland grievance redressal committee in 2017 had stated that both zones need to be protected as per Supreme Court directions in accordance with the Wetland (Conservation and Management) rules, 2010.
The City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (Cidco), which is the planning agency for Navi Mumbai, proposed 17 buildings with 1,564 flats, 20 offices, and an 18-hole golf course near Talawe wetlands in Seawoods. The area was divided into plots A, B and C (for the golf course), and D, E (for residential towers) over TSC and NRI Complex.
The wetland assessment by the tehsildar (revenue officer) under the Thane district collector’s office verified only three wetland zones (2.97 ha Darawe, 24.62 ha Jewel of Navi Mumbai, Nerul, and 4.47 ha Jijamata Bhot Khadi in Ghansoli) in Navi Mumbai of the 19 areas visited.
The document, which HT had reviewed, mentions that migratory bird numbers are very high across TSC and NRI but ‘they do not garner wetland status’. “Our officers visited each site keeping in mind the stringent norms under the new wetland rules. Both TSC and NRI may have wetland features, but are protected under the CRZ laws and thus cannot be declared wetlands,” said a senior official from the Thane collector’s office in-charge of the exercise.
Cidco’s contractor had hacked 724 trees at plots D and E in December in January for the apartment complex. Cidco refused to comment on the decision as they had not seen the document.
Local residents, who challenged the project, had acquired documents of the wetland identification process carried by the revenue department after the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, replaced the 2010 version. The new rules derecognised wetlands protected under the forest and wildlife laws, the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), man-made water bodies and all salt pans.
“The environment impact assessment of Cidco’s project clearly identifies that only 5.22 ha from TSC and 13.28 ha from NRI are CRZ areas. Remaining zones are non-CRZ and acquire wetland status, but they have still been excluded to allow this project to go through,” said Sunil Agarwal, Navi Mumbai resident, who challenged the project construction before the Bombay high court (HC). “The entire process (to identify new wetlands) is flawed as revenue officers are not qualified to identify wetlands. The exercise should have been done by scientists.”
On December 5, 2015, the state wildlife board, chaired by then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, had accepted a proposal by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to declare TSC, NRI, and Panje wetlands as bird sanctuaries. However, the order was never implemented. BNHS director Deepak Apte said the loss of these wetlands would have serious consequences on the air safety of Navi Mumbai International Airport, as migratory birds would be displaced from their roosting and feeding habitats.
The state environment department, however, said citizens still had the option to challenge the list prepared by districts. “Wetlands will be finally notified by the state wetland authority chaired by the environment minister,” said Sanjay Sandashiv, undersecretary (environment department).
“Citizens can submit their objections, which will be considered by the authority based on consultation with the grievance redressal committee. Despite being protected under CRZ, if any site has the potential to be declared a wetland, due consideration will be given.”