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Uran wetlands proposed as conservation reserves by forest department

PUBLISHED ON MAY 05, 2020 08:23 PM IST

Large flocks of migratory birds visiting wetlands in and around Mumbai during the Covid-19 lockdown have drawn the forest department’s attention and led to enhance protection for these ecologically sensitive zones.

Alongside wetlands at Navi Mumbai (NRI Complex and TS Chanakya), the Maharashtra forest department intends on declaring three of the most threatened wetland areas in Uran – Panje, Bhendhkal, and Belpada – as conservation reserves as well. These wetlands have been marked for the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) — an integrated industrial township.

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

The mangrove cell shared a letter with HT issued to the Raigad collector and City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (Cidco) last week, seeking comments on why the Uran wetlands should get protected status. For the first time, the department denoted each site as a ‘wetland’ in the letter, irrespective of their official status.

“The mangrove cell intends to propose protection and conservation measures for the said wetlands under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (for declaration of conservation reserves) to the Maharashtra government,” the letter undersigned by Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove Cell) said, asking for comments from district and planning authorities.

“The Navi Mumbai region has some important wetland habitats for a number of migratory and resident bird species but also play an important ecological role since they protect surrounding areas from flooding,” the letter stated.

The letter was based on recommendations by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in their 2019 report on the status of coastal wetlands and water birds of Navi Mumbai.

“The high numbers of flamingos congregating at TSC [TS Chanakya] and NRI Complex wetlands during the ongoing coronavirus-enforced lockdown is further evidence of the importance of these sites for threatened migratory birds,” the letter added.

Unlike the two wetlands in Navi Mumbai, the Uran wetlands – spread across over 500-hectare core area for migratory bird roosting – have not had any migratory birds visiting them at all this year, especially Panje, which dried up completely due to high tide blockages during the lockdown.

The Raigad district administration said it was yet to see the contents of the letter. Cidco said it did not have jurisdiction over the three wetland sites. “Large patches of land from Panje and Bhendkhal were sold by Cidco to a private company for the NMSEZ project across 1,250 hectares. Belpada falls in the jurisdiction of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. It is these bodies the forest department needs to approach for a no-objection certificate, and not Cidco,” said Pramod Patil, nodal officer (environment), Cidco.

Certain sections of the Uran wetlands have been witnessing aggressive debris and mud dumping, blocking of high tidewater, and construction activities before and during the lockdown period. Last week, more security cabins were set up at Panje, restricting entry and exit for outsiders. “These wetlands were a destination of 1.5 lakh birds, especially flamingos, until last year but they have turned into dry patches. Not a single flamingo is spotted now as they are being forced to smaller areas such as Talawe due to overall loss of habitat along the eastern seafront,” said environmentalist BN Kumar.

“Indiscriminate burial of these wetlands will lead to flooding as it had across 20 villages last monsoon. On the contrary, restoration will help local fishing communities,” said Nandkumar Pawar, another environmentalist. “They are the perfect alternative habitats for a quarter of a million migratory birds that have been displaced due to the construction of the Navi Mumbai International Airport site.”

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