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No need to declare Uran wetland as conservation reserve, JNPT tells forest dept

UPDATED ON MAY 19, 2020 01:03 AM IST

The country’s largest container port has informed the Maharashtra forest department that the Belpada area in Uran should not be declared a protected zone. This comes after the mangrove cell, earlier this month, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) conveying its intention of declaring the area a conservation reserve. However, JNPT’s response on May 15, which was shared by the forest department, states the site was ‘erroneously termed as a wetland’.

JNPT’s letter highlighted the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 do not include river channels, paddy fields, human-made waterbodies, salt pans etc. as wetlands. “In view of the above, it is submitted that the port land appears to be erroneously termed as wetland. It is requested that this land should not be proposed as wetland under Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972,” the letter undersigned by SV Madabhavi, chief manager (port, planning and development), JNPT, read. It further added, “We assure you, utmost care will be taken at the time of development of nearby area in accordance with law.”

According to Bombay Natural History Society’s (BNHS) 2019 report on the status of coastal wetlands in Navi Mumbai, the 30-hectare Belpada wetland is situated between two narrow creeks on the east and west sides and surrounded by mangroves. With 30 bird species, including nine migratory bird species, a maximum of 605 individuals can be spotted at the site. There are five near-threatened and five Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 including lesser and greater flamingos, Eurasian spoonbill, Black-winged kite, and Western Marsh harrier.

Citing the BNHS report, the mangrove cell had proposed the site as a conservation reserve for three Uran wetlands – Panje, Bhendkhal and Belpada. Cidco is yet to respond to the forest department’s letter on the status of Panje and Bhendkhal.

Conservation reserves are demarcated as protected areas in buffer zones of bird migration corridors, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries or reserved and protected forests.

Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell), said, “Even though the land is in possession of JNPT, it is still government land. It serves the purpose for everyone if they (JNPT) protect this area as a wetland and ensure no development at the site.”

Of the 2,987 hectare of JNPT port land, 1,172 hectare is agricultural land, 1,262 hectare is salt pans, and 553 hectare is government owned. The mangrove cell said Belpada forms a part of the 553-hectare land which falls under the state’s purview.JNPT responded to HT’s query and said that letter was written to clarify BNHS’s report which showed Belpada as a wetland. “We have objected to the same stating that the land is owned by JNPT. We have all the official documents to prove that this is a commercial and agricultural land. We would like to further state that the land in question is not a wetland as has been stated in the BNHS report. Our response has been given to the mangrove cell as per their request for our comments. We remain a socially conscious organisation, committed to the environment, community, stakeholders, employees and the industry,” said a JNPT spokesperson.

Mangrove chopping, wetland reclamation in other areas of Uran

Environmentalists have identified mangroves being hacked at Sonari (Sawarkhar village) near Karal junction in Uran across a kilometre-long and 100-foot wide patch. A complaint was filed by Nandkumar Pawar, representing Vanashakti, alleging that the work was being done by JNPT.

“These violations continue despite lockdown. Officials carrying out such illegal activities need to be booked,” said Pawar. Members of the Bombay high court-appointed mangrove committee said they have taken cognisance of the complaint. “While we will not be holding any meetings during lockdown via video-conferencing, all complaints are being forwarded to the local district administration for further action,” said a member of the committee.

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