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The duo that keeps Uran safe from reclamation

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON DEC 29, 2019 11:33 PM IST

With over 50 complaints filed in the past two years with various state agencies, environmentalists Nandakumar Pawar and BN Kumar have made it their aim to ensure villages in Uran tehsil, Navi Mumbai, are not flooded due to reclamation activities.

A 40-hectare mangrove forest in Uran, which had lost around 5,000 trees after tidal flow into the area, cut-off by a road was restored by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) after persistent complaints by the duo. “I was greatly concerned when I saw the massive destruction of mangroves. I educated myself on the importance of mangroves and wetlands and toured Uran and other areas extensively to understand the ground reality,” said Pawar, who is heading Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP), an environmental group fighting for the rights of the fishing community across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

Two weeks ago, the Raigad district the administration admitted that 20 villages in Uran, Navi Mumbai, were flooded this year during monsoon, affecting 1,236 families, as a direct result of mangrove and wetland destruction. “We have been experiencing floods frequently, yet we do not realise the importance of protecting mangroves and wetlands,” said Pawar. His fight began way back in 2005 after a deluge in Mumbai.

The state’s coastal authority has declared Panje and Karanje wetlands in Uran are safeguarded as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) I, the highest protection zone under the CRZ notification after Pawar filed a petition before the Bombay high court.

The duo also highlighted the mangrove destruction across 4.5 hectares, home to 4,550 mangrove trees. The forest department then, last month, slapped a fine of 1 lakh on the contractor appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and directed that the site be restored by allowing tidal water flow.

However, concerned with reclamation activities underway at Panje, Bhendkhal and many other wetland patches, the duo said, this is just the beginning of relentless fight to conserve ecological hotspots at Uran. “After BKC [Bandra-Kurla Complex] floods and the recent floods at Kalyan, Badlapur and Uran this monsoon, it is clear that officials are behaving in a lackadaisical manner. We are forced to move the courts to protect the environment,” he added.

Navi Mumbai resident Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation started the environment mission with his campaign to protect the Parsik Hills from further quarrying and damage. Relentless efforts through complaints and awareness campaigns forced the City Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) to put a full stop on quarrying. In 2017, he joined Pawar to highlight environmental degradation in Uran and losses incurred by fishermen.

Through a series of petitions filed by Pawar and followed up through right to information (RTI) responses from the state, and submitted as affidavits before courts, the duo has made it their mission now to ensure areas with migratory birds congregation are notified as wetlands and mangrove swamps as reserved forests. “Mangroves also serve as a breeding ground for a variety of marine life and they are the first form of defence against storm surges. In the climate change scenario we now live in, we will continue the fight against builders to protect nature for our future generations,” said Kumar.

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