MUMBAIThanks to the persistent complaints and efforts of residents of Yari Road in Versova for three years, a six-hectare mangrove forest along Malad creek, which was cleared of encroachments, has been declared a protected forest.Since 2005, mangrove land across 5,469 hectares (ha) in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai has been notified as reserved forest. In September last year, the Bombay high court (HC) directed the state to declare the remaining 700ha of mangroves on government land as reserved or protected forests. According to the forest department, the 6ha in Versova are the first of the 700ha to get the reservation within Mumbai’s municipal limits.“It was one of the areas that were to be notified. The consistent follow-up by Yari Road citizens expedited the process,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forests, state mangrove cell. “We are on a mission to remove all encroachments from mangrove areas, and over the next few months, we expect to complete it,” he said.Vasudevan said that while the notification was made under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the district collector is yet to transfer the land to the forest department. “It is a formality and will be completed by the end of this week,” he said.Following the notification, the forest department along with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), revenue department and police removed 80 illegal structures from the site between Tuesday and Wednesday. The encroachers had blocked tide water channels to kill mangrove trees.“We have dug up trenches along the periphery of the mangrove forest to facilitate high tide water ingress to the patch,” said Prashant Deshmukh, range forest officer (west), state mangrove cell. “Declaring this patch a reserved forest will ensure no illegal activity can take place on this patch anymore,” he said.HT reported all violations of encroachment, fires and debris dumping at this mangrove patch between 2015 and 2018. “This is a great move by the forest department, but they need to ensure that shanties don’t resurface again and strict vigilance to curtail debris dumping,” said Suneet Gandhi, resident and member, Yari Road Bachao (YRB), which held their last protest on January 27.Another resident and YRB member, Sameer Kapoor said, “It has been three strenuous years of raising awareness about the importance of this ecological hotspot through mangrove walks, protest marches and meetings across all government offices. Our efforts have finally showed results.”Meanwhile, Anil Dubakar, one of the 80 illegal shanty owners left homeless after the removal of encroachments, said they had lived there for 20 years.“Political party leaders had set up these shanties and gave us voter ID cards. We paid rent every month and have papers to prove it. We are being treated like cattle because we are of no use to them anymore,” he said.