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Vasai resident gets 3 booked for razing 3,000 mangroves

The Bombay HC has ruled that the destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50 metres of mangrove areas is illegal.

mumbai Updated: Jul 08, 2019 15:36 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
mangroves,bombay HC order on mangroves,sayanora gonsalves
The three acre area in Vasai, Palghar district, where mangroves have been destroyed. (HT Photo )

A 33-year-old Vasai resident’s efforts over three months brought to the fore the destruction of nearly 3,000 mangrove trees in the area, leading to an FIR against three violators, one arrest and a penalty of Rs 15 lakh. The Bombay high court (HC)-appointed state mangroves committee has decided to highlight the struggle as a case study for citizen-led protection of mangroves in Maharashtra.

The HC has ruled that the destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50 metres of mangrove areas is illegal.

In April, Sayanora Gonsalves, a playback singer and a resident of Sandor in Vasai, Palghar district, found a three-acre mangrove patch in the area had been destroyed to build an aquaculture farm. “During my visit to a paddy farm, I found two local residents had left the entire area barren using excavator machines and three tractors to develop an aquaculture farm,” said Gonsalves. She then approached the district revenue authority. “Mangroves had been openly hacked and in some cases, large amount of mud, provided by a third accused, was dumped around areas where high tide water had entered. What’s worse, the violators had placed a fake board with the state government’s symbol on it, claiming the work was being carried out with permission from the state fisheries department,” she said.

Over the next two weeks, Gonsalves filed two complaints with the revenue department. “However, a few revenue officials filed some false panchnamas, claiming no violations had happened. This was disheartening,” she said, adding that she received numerous “threat calls from unknown persons” during the process. After she saw no action was being taken, Gonsalves approached the Vasai sub-divisional officer (SDO). At the same time, she found that the violators had no permission for landfilling from the fisheries department. “When the matter was placed before the SDO, he inspected the area, and directed the tehsildar and police to file an FIR against the accused,” she said.

In the last week of June, Deepak Shirsagar, SDO, Vasai, said that based on Gonsalves‘s complaints, the Vasai tehsildar was directed to file a detailed report. “The tehsildar was asked to inform the police and take appropriate action for mangrove destruction. Dumping of 250 brass of mud was identified and a fine of ₹15 lakh was imposed on the three violators.”

Bhaskar Pukhle, inspector, Vasai police station, confirmed that the violators were booked under Environment Protection Act, 1986. “While one person was

arrested and later released on bail, another accused managed to get anticipatory bail. The third one is absconding. The matter will now be heard by the district court on July 9,” said Pukhle.

Members of the HC-appointed committee said if similar efforts were taken by citizens, there would be a drastic reduction in violations. “Rather than shouting on social media, she [Gonsalves] ensured that action was taken. We need more such citizens to come forward and help the committee,” said Stalin D, member of the committee.

First Published: Jul 08, 2019 15:31 IST