Dams · Wetlands

Maharashtra Wetlands Review 2017: Destruction Despite Legal Intervention

Throughout 2017, civil society groups have been working hard to protect the wetlands in mangrove and coastal area in Maharashtra. Bombay High Court has also passed several orders in this regard. State Government has taken some steps in the interest of wetlands. However despite all these, the wetlands in Maharashtra stand at the receiving end of encroachments, pollution and waste dumping.

Mumbai couple guards an 80-hectare wetland, protects it from destruction In a positive development,  Sunil Agarwal, 55, and his wife Shruti, 50, residents of NRI Complex in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, have been guarding an 80-ha wetland near their home for the last three years.

Sunil and Shruti Agarwal protect a wetland, which is home to 80 different bird species, in Seawoods, Navi Mumbai.
Sunil and Shruti Agarwal protect a wetland, which is home to 80 different bird species, in Seawoods, Navi Mumbai. (Bachchan Kumar, HT)

– In Oct 2016, the state urban development department issued a notification changing the land-use of the patch from a no-development zone to regional park based on a proposal by City and Industrial Development Corp (CIDCO) to develop a golf course and a residential colony on 67 of the 80-ha land.

– The couple met Vinod Punshi, president, Navi Mumbai Environmental Preservation Society, who has been actively involved in mangrove protection for a decade. “He (Punshi) was already aware of the development and had made it an additional prayer as a part of his PIL in the HC for mangrove protection. Based on his suggestion, we staged several protests in Oct-Nov last year, and ensured no construction began,” said Sunil.

– Since 2015, the couple has been cleaning the mangroves four times a year to ensure that garbage do not choke mangrove roots. “They (Agarwals) are a rare tribe and we need many more such role models to conserve what is remaining of our wetlands. I hope people take a cue from efforts made by this couple and replicate it,” said Stalin D, member of the wetland grievance committee constituted by the Bombay HC. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-couple-guards-an-80-hectare-wetland-protects-it-from-destruction/story-ILxwMcURwBuubioc17gffL.html (Hindustan Times, 15 Jan 2018)

HC asks to replace mangroves’ panel member In Jan. 2017, Bombay High Court (HC) directed the state govt to reconstitute a committee that was set up to protect and preserve mangroves in Navi Mumbai, by replacing the senior forest officer, its ex-officio member secretary. The court reportedly was miffed that while the committee, constituted under an HC order, was doing an excellent job, its member secretary, Milind Panditrao, a divisional forest officer (mangrove cell), suggested at its Jan. 10, 2017 meeting that there were committees headed by collectors at the district level to receive complaints, and there was no need for them to be referred to Navi Mumbai Mangroves’ Protection Committee (NMMPC), and the HC should be made aware of it. Defending the official, the govt advocate said it was only Panditrao’s suggestion and not a committee decision but the bench noted from the meeting’s minutes that the committee decided to take legal opinion on it. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/hc-seeks-google-maps-to-find-out-wetland-damage/articleshow/57029332.cms (The Times of India, 18 Jan. 2017)

HC seeks Google maps to find out wetland damage In the same month, the Bombay HC said the state govt must equally take care of citizens’ interests as it did of builders and ruthlessly stop destruction of wetlands near Mumbai. The court also sought old and latest Google maps “to compare the extent of damage to the environment by virtue of damage to wetlands and in the future to ensure it can be restored to its original state”. The judges said it remains to be seen what steps the authorities and corporations take to restore the wetlands. An order banning construction on and for reclamation of wetlands was also passed by the court.  Noting that the state has submitted a brief document in respect of wetlands in forest areas, it directed it to submit the document of wetlands in non-forest areas within four weeks. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/hc-seeks-google-maps-to-find-out-wetland-damage/articleshow/57029332.cms (The Times of India, 8 Feb. 2017)

507 wetlands identified by forest department The state forest department in Feb. 2017 identified 507 wetlands (369 in forest areas and 118 in non-forest areas) for taking up conservation and management in a holistic manner for wise use for the benefit of local community, conservation of biodiversity and usefulness to the society. Of the 507 wetlands, maximum are from Vidarbha including from Nagpur (35), Bhandara (88), Gondia (42), Gadchiroli (52), Chandrapur (41) and Yavatmal (21). These wetlands were identified in accordance with Wetlands Rules, 2010. These included, wetlands identified in forest area of 10 ha and above in size while those in non-forest area of 500 ha and beyond. However, State Government has notified not a single Wetland site so far. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/507-wetlands-in-maha-named-as-ramsar-sites/articleshow/56987094.cms (The Times of India, 6 Feb. 2017, )

Wetlands in forests As per Hindustan Times report, the state forest department has identified 320 wetlands in forest areas across 25 districts and developed brief documents detailing the demarcation, protection of wetlands through satellite imagery and submitted them in the court. The report identified the maximum wetlands in Vidarbha district with 83 in Bhandara, 40 in Gondia, 35 in Chandrapur, 32 in Nagpur, 23 in Ghadchiroli and 20 in Yavatmal. While Ratnagiri has 27 wetlands, Mumbai suburban, Pune and Thane have two, six and nine wetlands, respectively. The department produced the document by complying with orders passed by the HC Bombay in 2014 under a petition filed by NGO Vanashakti for the protection of wetlands. With this, Maharashtra is the second such state to come out with such a document after Odisha. A total of 464 wetland sites were identified through satellite maps and submitted to the state mangrove cell in early 2016. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/in-a-first-government-identifies-320-wetlands-in-forests-across-maharashtra/story-25TVsGEUAUsV0sZkzBtdzN.html (Hindustan Times, 16 Feb. 2017)  

HC pardoning wetlands illegalities? In a strange development, showing HC openly pardoning the wetlands violations, the court observed that: “I have no doubt that there are encroachments on wetlands. Nobody can deny that. The only thing that remains is, what the authorities are doing to prevent, restore and restrain such destruction in future,” the court said, while hearing a PIL. “Now, we cannot do anything in places where buildings have already been constructed on wetlands. However, in future, in places like Mira-Bhayandar and Panvel, we have to see to it that mangroves are saved. We should ruthlessly stop further destruction,” Justice Kanade said. There is no way the court can save the remaining mangroves if they refuse to take actions against illegalities already committed. http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/personal-finance/take-steps-to-stop-encroachmentwetlands-hc-to-maharashtra-government-1003136.html?utm_source=ref_article (Money Control, Feb. 2017)

No check on dumping of debris in wetlands Meanwhile, dumping of construction debris right under the nose of forest and civic officials continued along the 2.5-km mangrove stretch of an abandoned Palm Beach extension road that skirts through Thane creek line between Koparkhairane and Ghansoli. The dumping went on unchecked and the agencies responsible for safeguarding the green cover kept passing the buck. The land mafia was suspected to have grabbed a patch, where an illegal temple, shops and nurseries were built recently.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thane/no-check-on-dumping-of-debris-in-wetlands-near-thane-creek/articleshow/57336028.cms (The Times of India, 25 Feb. 2017)

Black & Veatch to prepare recycled water master plan for BMC EPC solutions provider Black & Veatch had bagged a contract from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to prepare a detailed master plan for recycled water. The recycled water master plan was Black & Veatch’s second project with the BMC in 12 months. In May 2016, the company had bagged a contract to undertake consultancy services, and prepared a detailed project report and tender documents, for BMC’s wastewater treatment facility for suburban Malad zone. The project, once commissioned, was stated to be one of India’s largest in terms of treatment capacity. Indeed, if Mumbai does this seriously (properly treat and recycle the sewage), it won’t need to go for any more fresh water supply than what it is already getting, and if it starts more seriously harvest rainwater and preserve its water bodies. But you do not necessarily need these fancy consultancy companies for that. http://www.financialexpress.com/industry/black-veatch-to-prepare-recycled-water-masterplan-for-bmc/661162/ (Financial Express, 9 March 2017)

Dried up Sonegaon lake in Nagpur.  http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-otherstates/bone-dry/article17747773.ece (The Hindu, 31 March 2017)

Harsh reality: Children riding their bicycles in the dried up Sonegaon lake in Nagpur in March 2017 ( Image by S. SudarshanS. Sudarshan, The Hindu)

100 mangrove trees destroyed in Navi Mumbai  As per April 2017 report, more than 100 mangrove trees have been destroyed in a five-acre area in Sector 20, near Airoli Kalba complex at Navi Mumbai. Environment activists alleged the local fishing community was responsible for the hacking of the trees to convert the area into a pond for fishing purposes. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/100-mangrove-trees-destroyed-in-navi-mumbai/story-AzdFQBe2divayRmDXi3vDM.html  (The Hindustan Times, 23 April 2017)

 

100-acre wetland patch near Mumbai destroyed, say fishermen Similarly despite a court order from 2014 banning destruction of wetlands for land reclamation, a 100-acre patch near Kasheli village in Bhiwandi district is being reclaimed for real-estate development, alleged a local fishing group. While the district collector has initiated an enquiry into the matter, sub-divisional officers are unaware of the exact land patch which is allegedly being reclaimed and are yet to take action. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/100-acre-wetland-patch-near-mumbai-destroyed-say-fishermen/story-LzUBXBN27FddHMfAZ7xtrN.html  (The Hindustan Times, 2 June 2017)

A photo the fishermen submitted with their complaint to show destruction of the wetland patch in Bhiwandi.
A photo the fishermen submitted with their complaint to show destruction of the wetland patch in Bhiwandi. (HT)

523 wetlands were destroyed in 5 years In July 2017, NGO Vanashakti revealed that between 2012 and 2017 alone, 523 cases of wetland destruction were reported in the State. Ten major cases were reported from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, but the most cases were reported in Thane, at Kalher, Kasheli and Dombivli among other areas. In Mumbai, the destruction is taking place at a 400-acre patch opposite Millat Nagar in Oshiwara-Lonkhandwala, a 15-acre patch at Shivaji Nagar, a 200 acre patch in Charkop and a 10-acre patch in Dahisar. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/523-wetlands-were-destroyed-in-maharashtra-in-five-years-report/story-vXeozjltyhMeB4GGMALWTI.html  (Hindustan Times, 28 July 2017)

2 Mumbai wetlands among unique mangrove forests of India In Aug. 2017 the Mangrove Society of India (MSI) put two of Mumbai region’s mangroves — Airoli and Vikhroli wetlands — among 12 unique mangrove forests in the country. Mangrove forests grow in creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons and in inter-tidal areas – area between the high tide and the low tide. Their ecosystem is believed to have evolved around 114 million years back in tropical and subtropical regions and India has 3% (4,740 sq km) of the world’s mangrove cover. Maharashtra is the only state to have a dedicated cell protecting its mangrove cover. Environmentalists believe India’s mangroves are under threat from developmental projects. The report lists 12 unique mangrove forest locations selected for better conservation: https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/two-mangroves-from-mumbai-region-on-list-the-12-unique-wetlands-in-india/story-EiVR3zcmlQBL2y19wYLMiJ.html (Hindustan Times, 2 Aug. 2017)

New Wetlands Committee decides to deal with wetlands complaints in 48 hours  In Aug. 2017, the members of the newly formed Wetland Grievance Redressal Committee in a recent meeting decided to deal with complaints linked to wetlands destruction within 48 hours. The committee was formed based on the directive of the Thane district collectorate dated April 17, 2017, and is headed by a Naib Tehsildar rank official for the protection of wetlands in Navi Mumbai and Konkan regions. After the meeting the committee also visited two wetlands sites in Seawoods and Ghansoli about which citizens had complained about debris dumping and mangroves destruction. In the absence of any dedicated helpline number, the citizens can email or text their grievances to the Konkan divisional commissionerate and the Thane district collectorate, from where it will be forwarded to the wetlands committee members. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/new-wetlands-committee-to-address-complaints-in-48-hours/articleshow/59945369.cms (The Times of India, 6 Aug. 2017)

HC asks Govt to set up panels on wetlands fast The Bombay HC in Oct. 2017 directed the state govt to constitute the authorities under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017, instead of waiting for the three-month timeframe allowed under the rules. The govt was also asked to inform the court on the progress in the matter. The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Vanashakti regarding non-implementation of Wetland Rules 2010 in Maharashtra. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/set-up-panels-on-wetlands-fast-hc-tells-state-govt/articleshow/60976981.cms (The Times of India, 7 Oct. 2017)

HC wetland panel issues new guidelines According to the new guidelines issued by the Bombay HC appointed wetlands grievance redressal committee, destruction of wetlands on private land in the state will now attract a penalty. The govt would confiscate the land if the owners fail to pay this penalty. The guidelines were decided during the committee’s last two meetings. The panel also setup a website (https://www.konkanwetland.com/) to track complaints.

As per , members of the committee so far in 2017, they had received 17 major cases of wetland destruction. First-information-reports (FIRs) were filed and penalties were levied in 11 of these cases. The remaining 6 were pending and currently under inquiry. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/cough-up-fines-for-wetland-destruction-or-pay-with-your-land-says-bombay-high-court-panel/story-aiyoDGbg4asE9Pvk0fhfvL.html (Hindustan Times, 2 Nov. 2017)

100-acre wetland in Mumbai becomes dump yard A 100-acre wetland patch near VK Krishna Menon College in Bhandup has become a dumping ground for construction debris, according to a complaint filed by citizens’ group Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) with the suburban collector, mangrove cell and civic body on Dec 24. The complainants have satellite images of the site, indicating illegal reclamation of wetlands, banned by Bombay HC in 2012. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/100-acre-wetland-in-mumbai-becomes-dumpyard-as-construction-debris-piles-up/story-nYFqd2vfAnVu41zVINv9HO.html (Hindustan Times, 24 Dec. 2017)  

Google images of 2003 and 2017 showing striking changes in Bhandup wetlands area. 

Pashan lake loses its charm The informative report revealed that due to detrimental impact of PMC ₹20 crore beautification project, Pashan a thriving lake earlier is now covered with green algae, hyacinth and floating plastic garbage near the banks. Sadly, the project has badly messed up the habitat for the birds. As a result, instead of 300 earlier now only 150 migratory bird species are visiting the lake. http://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/pune-s-pashan-lake-loses-its-charm-of-attracting-migratory-birds-from-siberia/story-zzREMzueazi5n6laymkRQJ.html  (The Hindustan Times, 25 Dec 2017)

To know more about Pashan lake issue, kindly see India Water Portal report: Threatened by urbanisation, doomed by restoration

http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/threatened-urbanisation-doomed-restoration (India Water Portal, 10 Oct. 2017)

World Bank to fund reclamation of saline lands The World Bank  has decided to fund a state government project for reclaiming saline lands. The project is a part of the larger umbrella project called Climate Resistant Agriculture, which will receive ₹4,000 crore joint funding from the Bank and State government. The World Bank will provide ₹2,800 crore (70 per cent) while the rest will be contributed by the State government. The water logged lands include mostly in Vidarbha and some in N Maharashtra, to the extent of 5 lakh ha, spread over 1000 villages in cotton producing districts of Akola, Amravati and Buldahan in Vidarbha. Some villages in Jalgaon, mostly close to Purna river (a tributary of Godavari), mostly due to inadequate drainage. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/world-bank-to-fund-reclamation-of-saline-lands-in-maharashtra/article9483191.ece (Business Line, 12 Jan. 2018)

The project, a part of the larger umbrella project called Climate Resistant Agriculture, will receive 4,000 crore joint funding from the World Bank and Maharashtra government (Image Source: Business Line) 

Mumbai Gets a Flamingo Sanctuary as Trade-Off for Trans-Harbour Sea-Link The 22-km-long the Trans-Harbour Sea-Link, worth Rs 17,700 crore, is coming up in Mumbai. The sea link will connect the city to Navi Mumbai as well as to the new international airport coming up there. The bridge is going to occupy five km of mudflats in the Thane creek and would affect 38 ha of protected mangrove forests and 8.8 ha of forest land. To protect the remaining part of the Thane creek, however, the Maharashtra Forest Department has agreed to declare a 10-km-long stretch of mangroves and mudflats between the Vashi and Airoli creeks as protected Flamingo sanctuary. https://thewire.in/214365/mumbai-gets-flamingo-sanctuary-trade-off-trans-harbour-sea-link/ (The Wire, 16 January 2018)

A map indicating the location of the proposed MTHL. Map from MMRDA’s MTHL Supplemental EIA, Nov 2015.
A map indicating the location of the proposed MTHL. Map from MMRDA’s MTHL Supplemental EIA, Nov 2015 (Image Source: The Wire)

Fishermen claim 800 hectare of wetlands destroyed in Uran While we are celebrating World Wetland Day 2018, fishermen’s associations and environment groups have complained that 800 hectares of wetlands have been destroyed for different projects at Dronagiri node of Navi Mumbai.

In a complaint filed, with the state environment department, Konkan commissioner and WGRC, fishermen from five villages, represented by Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP), have alleged that the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (CIDCO), the development agency for Navi Mumbai, and private companies are reclaiming wetlands by debris dumping and blocking the flow of tidal water in these areas.

As per report, this is not the first time the fishing community has alleged such a violation. In October 2013, Ramdas Koli moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with regard to the impact of development projects by the public sector units on the tidal waters that affected livelihood of 1,630 residents across four villages in Uran and Panvel talukas.

In March 2015, the western bench of the NGT ordered CIDCO, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to pay Rs95.19 crore to 1,630 families in three months. However, the respondents managed to get a stay from the Supreme Court. In August 2015, the SC bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Amitav Roy ordered CIDCO to comply with the NGTs order and directed the body to pay a compensation of Rs10 crore to the fishing communities. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/maharashtra-fishermen-claim-800-hectare-of-wetlands-destroyed-in-uran/story-XGaCW9qDkSajTIin7TBPrO.html (Hindustan Times, 2 Feb. 2018)

Locals unite to save Seawoods wetlands In a positive development on occasion of World Wetlands Day 2018, Navi Mumbai residents are organizing largest awareness drive on the importance of the pristine Seawoods wetlands, which is being eyed by several realtors.

According to resident, though the Navi Mumbai municipal corporation is boasting about the wetland in their official calendars, however it has not done enough to save it from destruction. As per report, a petition to save the wetland is being heard in the HC Bombay.

The wetland is used by many migratory water birds
Image Source: The Asian Age 

– Around 67.85 hectare of the wetland has been denotified from the ‘No Development Zone’ (NDZ) to the ‘Regional Park, including golf course and predominately residential zone’.-

– The BNHS report states that the Seawoods wetland is an extraordinary wetland that is used by a large number of migratory and resident water birds. It also recommended the site to be declared as protected area.http://www.asianage.com/metros/mumbai/020218/locals-unite-to-save-seawoods-wetlands.html (The Asian Age, 2 Feb. 2018)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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