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Satellite images show Navy station reclaimed 60% mangroves in Mumbai: NGO

The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005

mumbai Updated: Sep 22, 2017 12:43 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,mumbai mangroves,mangroves destruction
Officials from INS Hamla refuted the allegations and said no mangroves had been destroyed by them. (HT File)

A city-based non-government organisation (NGO) has alleged that illegal reclamation by the Indian Navy Station (INS) Hamla led to a 60% drop in mangrove cover at an area owned by the latter near Nau Sena Bagh, Marwe, Malad (West). The state mangrove cell confirmed there was a violation at the site.

NGO Watchdog Foundation filed complaints with the state mangrove cell and the Mumbai suburban collector on Tuesday. The NGO attached satellite images from 2013 and 2017 that show a significant drop in green cover at the patch.

“Debris dumping over four years by the Navy has destroyed over one-and-a-half hectare mangrove patch at Marwe. This is against Bombay high court (HC) orders and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991, which provides for the protection of mangroves irrespective of their density,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation. “We demand an enquiry into the matter and the booking of officials responsible for this.”

The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove areas was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005, after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by the NGO Bombay Environment Action Group.

The satellite image from 2003 of the mangrove area owned by INS Hamla.
In this 2017 satellite image, we can see that a significant area has been reclaimed by the Navy.

He added that the protection of mangroves is critical. “Mangroves provide bio-shields and nurseries for fish breeding in the coast – protecting against disasters like tsunamis or cyclones and providing livelihoods to fishers. It is also important to recognise that mangroves are difficult to regenerate. Once these mangrove areas are destroyed, new mangrove plantations do not come up easily,” said Pimenta.

Officials from the state mangrove cell told HT they had received several complaints between 2015 and 2017 about mangrove destruction by the Navy. “From our inspection, it is clear that there has been destruction of mangroves and violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. However, since the land is private, belongs to the Navy and is not identified as protected forests, it is not under our jurisdiction to take action,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “We have informed the suburban collector several times about the violation and to take necessary action to restore the cover.”

The deputy suburban collector, Mumbai, said that they had taken cognisance of the NGO’s complaint. “We will be deputing a team of officers to visit the site and survey the entire area to identify the extent of violation. On the basis of their report, further action will be taken,” said Satyanarayan Bajaj, deputy collector, Mumbai suburban.

This is not the first time allegations have been made against INS Hamla as HT reported in on October 29 last year that a first-information-report (FIR) was filed against the contractors employed by the Navy after the district collectorate took cognisance of residents’ complaints that the Navy had reclaimed a pond located within wetlands near village Marve by installing a pump and drawing out water to dry out the water body.

Officials from INS Hamla refuted the allegations and said no mangroves had been destroyed by them. “Over a period of time, there have been a lot of encroachments and illegal residents settling in this area. With the changing security scenario, the Navy has been forced to create fencing around the INS Hamla complex and the fencing needs to be patrolled. For this purpose, we need some space to walk and only levelling work was done for that, since it is our land,” said Commander Sridhar Warrier, chief public relations officer of the Southern Naval Command.

Why you should care

· Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants, a common natural feature along the Mumbai coast

· Apart from playing a role in stabilising coastlines, mangrove trees act as carbon sinks, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing them in the vegetation. This process is called carbon sequestration, and helps control global warming by reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere

· Mangrove ecosystem establishes and grows at the interface of soil and water bodies like sea, creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons. They are commonly found in inter-tidal areas – area between the high tide and the low tide.

· In Maharashtra, mangroves cover almost 222 sq km of coastline covering 53 creeks and seashore

· Close to 150 hectares of mangrove forests have already been sanctioned to be lost for various development projects in Mumbai, including the proposed Navi Mumbai International airport and the civic body’s Coastal Road Project.

Mangrove Destruction in Mumbai

Mumbai has witnessed 96 cases of mangrove destruction - 86 cases on private land (under the revenue department) and ten cases on government land (under the forest department) between January and August. Violators have gone undetected as only one arrest so far and no convictions were made in the cases yet.

Currently, Mumbai has a total of 5,800 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover – 4,000 ha on government-owned land and 1,800 ha in private areas.

First Published: Sep 22, 2017 12:09 IST