Wetlands

Maharashtra Wetlands Overview 2020

[The feature photo of Flamingos at NRI colony in Navi Mumbai above is by Vidyasagar Hariharan, from The Guardian Dated March 26, 2019.]

In 2020, Maharashtra has seen some interesting developments around wetlands, driven by initiatives by activists like D Stalin among many others, and at times supported by judiciary. After an example of some individuals’ courage to save an 80 ha of wetland, we look at state level wetlands issue, followed by some interesting developments around some specific wetlands like Dhamapur Lake (Sindhudurg dist) and Lonar (Buldana dist). Maharashtra govt claimed in High Court that in three districts of Nandurbar, Nagpur and Parbhani, there are no wetlands at all. The flip flops here is tragic as the ISRO report had shown over 2000 wetlands in these districts. Next is the Mumbai wetlands, Uran wetlands, Panje wetland and two other wetlands where CIDCO has been pushing real estate projects. The overview ends with some Supreme Court petitions. There is lot of action, but no very optimistic trends in spite of some individual actions and positive developments at some individual wetlands.

Positive Development

Citizens who joined the movement to protect Navi Mumbai’s urban wetlands at Talawe. Photo from Sunil Agarwal.

Navi Mumbai couple fights to save a bird haven A Navi Mumbai couple has been fighting to save 80 ha of wetlands in Navi Mumbai that are home to thousands of flamingos & other migratory birds. The wetlands were proposed to be converted into a golf course and residential complex but in 2018, based on their petition, the Bombay High Court (HC) quashed a notification to this effect. The forest dept now plans to declare the area a conservation reserve but is facing resistance from within the govt. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/11/navi-mumbai-couple-fights-to-save-a-bird-haven-from-becoming-a-golf-course/  (23 Nov. 2020)

A group of women protect Sindhudurg’s mangroves through ecotourism Sindhudurg, the southernmost district in Maharashtra, covers only 3.8 percent of the total mangrove vegetation in the state. However, with occurrences of some rare and endangered species, it is the richest in terms of its biodiversity.

The ‘Swamini’ self-help group, a group of ten individuals led by Shweta Hule, have been organising ‘mangrove safari’ for tourists in the Mandavi creek of Vengurla taluka in Sindhudurg, since 2017. The mangrove safari programme by Swamini has been recognized a model for community-led conservation through ecotourism and the State Forest Department has made efforts to replicate the model in other parts of coastal Maharashtra. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/11/a-group-of-women-protect-sindhudurgs-mangroves-through-eco-tourism/  (13 Nov. 2020)

Navi Mumbai couple fights to save a bird haven A Navi Mumbai couple has been fighting to save 80 ha of wetlands that are home to thousands of flamingos. The wetlands were proposed to be converted into a golf course and residential complex but in 2018, based on their petition, the Bombay High Court (HC) quashed a notification to this effect. The forest dept now plans to declare the area a conservation reserve but is facing resistance from within the govt. While these wetlands constitute a small percentage of the area of Navi Mumbai, they support more than a hundred species of birds, including many migratory species. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/11/navi-mumbai-couple-fights-to-save-a-bird-haven-from-becoming-a-golf-course/  (23 Nov. 2020)

STATE LEVEL ISSUES

29K sites lost to new definition In 2010 NWIA, 44,714 wetland sites were identified in Maharashtra. A decade later, their numbers have shrunk to approximately 15,865. The state environment dept gave this information in an affidavit before the Bombay HC. The drastic fall in the numbers is on account of change in definition of wetlands under the 2017 Wetland Rules, said D Stalin, conservationist with NGO Vanashakti. The severity of the problem can be gauged from the depletion of wetland sites in Satara dist alone, where of a total of 7,909 wetland sites, there are only 719 in existence, states the affidavit. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/new-wetland-definition-does-not-apply-to-29000-sites/articleshow/73913086.cms  (4 Feb. 2020)

Wetlands under NWIA 2011 will be protected: HC panel The meeting was held by Konkan commissioner Shivaji Daund and other committee members on Jan 30, 2020. The minutes of the meeting published on Feb. 13 issued directions to all district collectors and civic bodies that read, “It is extremely important to protect wetlands forming a part of NWIA as per orders of the Supreme Court (SC) and Bombay HC. Irrespective of who has the possession, responsibility of protection will be with district office planning authority. The authority should prevent any debris or garbage dumping and encroachments with help from police and have mobile patrolling system to save mangroves, highlighted the committee chairman.”

However, the member secretary of the committee and deputy conservator of forest (mangrove cell) Neenu Somraj clarified that this was just temporary protection. “Once freshly notified wetlands under the Wetland Rules, 2017 are notified by the state then this committee will only be accepting complaints related to those wetlands,” said Somraj. “While human-made water bodies will not be protected, previously identified coastal wetlands under NWIA will be protected under coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms by the state’s coastal authority and environment department while wetlands in forest zones will be protected by the forest dept.”

Member of the committee and petitioner Stalin D contradicted Somraj’s claim. “Irrespective of which rule or classification is imposed, all wetlands in the NWIA will have to be protected.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/wetlands-under-nwia-2011-will-be-protected-too-hc-appointed-panel/story-pnV5IBXqCiwBiujKrOgVBO.html  (16 Feb. 2020)

Re-verify status of wetlands: HC panel The Bombay HC appointed committee, which is looking after the protection of mangroves and wetlands in Maharashtra, on Sep 21 2020 directed all district collectors (DCs) along the Konkan coast and municipal commissioners to undertake a fresh survey to re-verify the status of all wetlands and submit their reports within 15 days to the panel.

The committee, which met for the first time after six months, has directed state authorities not to differentiate between human-made and natural wetlands during its latest assessment & consider all wetland areas identified in the NWIA, Maharashtra, while undertaking the exercise. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/re-verify-status-of-wetlands-in-maharashtra-ordrers-bombay-high-court-panel/story-zuEWh3pMIegIWaTw0RSAeJ.html  (22 Sept. 2020)

Coastal road projects are outdated In Dec 2015, the MoEFCC made an amendment to the CRZ laws which govern activities in coastal areas. The amendments allowed, for the first time, construction of roads by way of reclamation (creating new land from oceans, rivers or lakes by filling the area with rock, sand etc) anywhere along India’s 7,500 km-long coastline without any environmental clearance, albeit in “exceptional cases” which was left undefined.

The amendment came as a result of an unprecedented recommendation from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA). It effectively nullifies several laws and regulations – the original 1991 CRZ notification under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 & the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

It ignores the eco-sensitive nature of the intertidal zone. Land-filling desecrates fragile coastal ecosystems; it destroys coral reefs and crucial fish spawning grounds and disrupts marine food chains, which in turn impacts adversely the local fishery communities and economies dependent on them. It creates a dam between the city & the water body, affecting natural storm-water drainage patterns and increasing the threat of flooding manifold. https://thewire.in/environment/coastal-road-project-damage-environment-outdated (12 Dec 2020)

DHAMAPUR LAKE

NGT slams dist bodies for failing to restore 490-year-old wetland The NGT directed the restoration of a 490-year-old wetland in Sindhudurg dist and directed the bank account of the state PWD be seized since its previous orders were not adhered to. The NGT on Oct 9 directed the Sindhudurg dist collector to ensure that Rs 1.5 crore is seized in the bank account of the PWD till the time it does not transfer the amount to State Biodiversity Board to restore the heritage Dhamapur Lake, a notified wetland.  The dist administration was directed to take necessary steps to remove all obstructions and illegalities (in terms of construction) undertaken in violation of the Wetland 2017 rules. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/ngt-slams-district-bodies-for-failing-to-restore-490-year-old-wetland-in-maharashtra/story-36ssEh3X3lCkyTdUFEDPCK.html  (15 Oct. 2020)

Demolition of skywalk over heritage wetland The Sindhudurg district administration has complied with the orders of the NGT, issued in Oct, by starting the demolition of an illegal skywalk built by the PWD over Dhamapur Lake at Malvan. In a compliance affidavit filed on Oct 23, the Sindhudurg dist collector, K Manjulekshmi, told the NGT that a departmental enquiry had been initiated against the PWD authorities for neglecting previous decisions of the tribunal and failing to take remedial steps.

The Dhamapur Lake, an inland wetland & a permanent freshwater lake spread over 61.7 ha, was constructed in 1530 AD between villages Are & Katta. The wetland has been recognised by the MoEFCC among top 100 wetlands in the country that need ecosystem restoration. The NGT had been hearing a plea by Sindhudurg residents Dr. Harishchandra Natu and Omkar Keni since 2017 alleging various encroachments and the construction of skywalk around Dhamapur Lake by the PWD authorities, which was leading to shrinking of the lake & causing degradation. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/maharashtra-in-keeping-with-ngt-orders-demolition-of-skywalk-over-heritage-wetland-begins/story-8p1pzN55WrgFw2ndBOw88H.html (3 Nov 2020)

LONAR LAKE

Lake turned pink overnight Color of water in Lonar lake in Buldana changed possibly because low water level due to high evaporation during warm, dry weather, high salinity could bring change in algae behaviour.  https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/maharashtra-lonar-lake-turns-pink-experts-say-not-the-first-time-2244325  (11 June 2020)

Images source: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146859/lonar-lake-tries-on-a-rosy-color

Lake Hillier in Australia, for example, is thought to get its hue from Halobacteriaceae, a pink-colored microorganism that thrives in water with high salinity. The Lake, however, is persistently pink and does not change over the span of a few days. A similar phenomenon happens to Iran’s Lake Urmia during spring and summer, when the lake grows smaller and saltier prompting the microorganisms show their colors. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146859/lonar-lake-tries-on-a-rosy-color

Harish Malpani, head, dept of microbiology, RLT College of Science, Akola, however, said the phenomenon needs to be probed further. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/why-a-56000-year-old-lake-has-turned-pink/articleshow/76317876.cms  (11 June 2020)

HC seeks report on colour change The Nagpur Bench of Bombay HC said a court-appointed committee, including the judges themselves, would visit the site. The Bench directed NEERI and Agarkar Research Institute to submit their reports to the court within four weeks.

The forest dept also informed the Bench that since the area is an eco-sensitive zone, the construction of Lonar-Kinhi road would be a problem, as there is a large quantity of a unique material called ejecta blanket, which contains a substance found on the moon.

The court accepted this argument and directed the Buldhana dist collector to take immediate steps to protect the material from possible theft and pilferage. It also prohibited construction of the Lonar-Kinhi Road until further orders. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lonar-lake-hc-seeks-report-on-colour-change/article31846881.ece  (17 June 2020)

Declared Ramsar site The Lonar lake has been declared as the 41st “Ramsar” site of India. It has effectively become the second Ramsar site in Maharashtra. “The sites are both threatened by urban wastewater and by unsustainable tourism” reads the announcement. The color change phenomena earlier in 2020 was caused by salt-loving Haloarchaea microbes which lead to pigmentation, according to a report by Agharkar Research Institute, Pune.

However, Madhav Gadgil urged the govt to first take steps at the local level failing which international intervention like Ramsar list may not help. “UNESCO heritage site Kaas plateau has been made worse after being declared a heritage site. I have never seen even one site which has gained an advantage after being protected by the forest dept. At Lonar, the sewage is let into the lake. There are red algae blooms – it is getting spoiled. Tourism is also highly politicised. If we have to fix this then, we must take out the tourist lodges near the heritages sites and prevent sewage from entering the lake. Where is the political will for doing all this? What’s the use of giving international status? Maharashtra and the Central govt ministry should take it up seriously,” said Gadgil. https://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/buldhana-s-lonar-lake-declared-ramsar-site-second-for-maharashtra-within-a-year/story-vhomyKcTPrNmbaRL5WgIPN.html  (14 Nov. 2020)

NAGPUR, PARBHANI, NANDURBAR: NO WETLANDS?

Prepare final list of wetlands within 2 weeks: HCThe Bombay HC on Jan. 15, 2020 pulled up Maharashtra, especially district commissioners and collectors, for failing to submit brief documents for the state’s wetlands for the last eight years. It gave the state an ultimatum to publish the list on the ministry website by Jan 29, the next date for the hearing. The document will have characteristic features for each site, the location, expanse, threats, action plan to preserve the area under the Wetland Rules 2017.

So far, the state has prepared brief documents for all seven districts along the Konkan coast – Mumbai, Raigad, Palghar, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Sindhudurg. Brief documents for all other remaining districts are currently pending, said Sandanshiv.

The state environment dept on Jan. 15 submitted an affidavit highlighting three dists – Nagpur, Parbhani & Nandurbar – do not have a single wetland and so no brief document was needed. The submission was challenged by petitioners Vanashakti who countered the submission citing details from the National Wetland Atlas, Maharashtra that Nandurbar had 735 wetlands, Nagpur 1,054 & Parbhani 276 wetlands.

HC summons 3 DCs over error in the number of wetlandsThe Bombay HC on Jan. 27 pulled up the state govt for “lying” on oathregarding the number of wetlands in Parbhani, Nagpur and Nandurbar districts. The court also summoned thecollectors from these dist. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/prepare-final-list-of-wetlands-within-2-weeks-hc-to-state/story-ZIBfytmjMyUMYcl8Te4dQO.html  (16 Jan. 2020)

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/hc-summons-three-district-collectors-over-error-in-the-number-of-wetlands/articleshow/73752352.cms  (30 Jan. 2020)

Show cause notice to undersecretary for giving incorrect data Bombay HC on Feb. 18 issued a show cause notice to Joy Thakur, an undersecretary in the State Environment Dept, asking him why contempt proceedings shouldn’t be initiated against him for putting forth incorrect information about wetlands. The PIL showed that no action was taken against builders who indiscriminately reclaimed lands & dumped debris on wetlands and mangroves.

Mr. Thakur had filed an affidavit in which he had stated that there were 803 wetlands in the three dists of Nagpur, Nandurbar & Parbhani while the dist collectors had said that there were no wetlands in their jurisdiction. Based on the affidavit, the HC had summoned the collectors. While appearing before the HC last week, the three collectors said that there were no wetlands in the dists. Following this, the HC asked Mr. Thakur for an explanation on his statement.

On Feb. 18, Mr. Thakur filed another affidavit which stated that the numbers depicted in the early affidavit were only of the number of sites visited, and not the number of wetlands. The court found the explanation unacceptable and asked the govt pleader, P.P. Kakade, to check if Mr. Thakur was willing to pay a fine of ₹1 lakh for wasting the court’s time & of the 3 officers. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/show-cause-notice-to-undersecretary-for-giving-incorrect-data-on-wetlands/article30855345.ece (19 Feb. 2020)

MUMBAI WETLANDS

On January 3, the Thane district administration had submitted its final report to the state government, which showed only three wetlands, excluding the ones in Navi Mumbai.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

Mumbai lost 71% of its wetlands in 44 yrs, loss cause of flooding Among 22 Indian cities, Mumbai has lost the maximum number of wetlands – 71% – between 1970 and 2014, according to a national study by a non-profit group, WISA. The wetland loss from 4.58 sq km to 1.3 sq km was a result of the increase in built-up area to 1074 sq km from 149 sq km.

The latest data from the state environment dept, which was submitted before the Bombay HC in an affidavit on Jan. 29 2020, showed 57 wetland areas have been verified across Mumbai suburban (48) and city (9). Of these, the state environment dept is yet to notify several wetlands under the Wetland Rules, 2017. This is a sharp drop from 475 wetlands identified in Mumbai under the National Wetland Inventory Atlas (NWIA) Maharashtra state, with 412 wetlands in Mumbai suburbs and 63 in south Mumbai.

“The identification and notification of wetlands is taking time as different states are interpreting the rules differently. While manmade wetlands will not be notified under the Wetland Rules, 2017, it doesn’t mean that these sites are not going to be recognised as wetlands or that they don’t need to be protected. It is just that they would be notified under different rules and not under the wetland rules. We are writing to these states clarifying these issues,” said Manju Pandey, joint secretary MoEF&CC.

On Aug 26, 2018, the MoEF&CC had directed states to prepare a list of wetlands for priority restoration in the next five years and asked them to submit their respective integrated management plan. 130 wetlands were identified including by all states. The MoEF&CC proposed the concept of ‘Wetland Health Card’ for each of those 130 wetlands.

‘Wetland loss key reason behind monsoon flooding’ “Mumbai’s shoreline itself, which has a 6-metre depth, is also termed as a wetland. Reclamation there has made the city vulnerable. Moreover, river floodplains and catchment areas have already been built upon. This is the reason why maximum flooding takes place. There is no water absorption anymore,” said Afroz Ahmad, co-author of Wetlands Rules, 2017. “Mumbai’s annual flooding woes can be attributed to the loss of more than three-fourths of its wetlands due to rapid urbanisation and illegal encroachments” he said.

Ahmad’s assessments were in line with a study by WISA that showed Mumbai had lost 71% wetlands from 1970 to 2014, followed by Ahmedabad (57%), Bengaluru (56%), Hyderabad (55%), Delhi and National Capital Region (38%), and Pune (37%).

“Comprehensive wetland inventories are not yet available, but some datasets indicate Mumbai witnessed very high wetland loss through reclamation but so have other major cities. Post 1970s when cities started expanding, they started eating into the wetlands,” said Ritesh Kumar, director, WISA. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-lost-71-of-its-wetlands-in-44-yrs/story-FeJ9uNuD3nzQvQ2NFysRiP.html  (31 Jan. 2020)

https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/70-wetland-loss-key-reason-behind-monsoon-flooding/story-cvSIRYCvDI3fmJyVnkVJaM.html (15 Aug. 2020)

Powai lake only wetland in the city to be notified Mumbai will have only one major notified wetland, divided into four zones across 181.9 ha, at Powai Lake, as per the amended wetland rules 2017. This would effectively open up construction on salt pans & other areas, which were earlier identified as coastal wetlands. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/wetland-at-powai-lake-only-one-to-be-notified-across-city/story-aDDSaSGQte12LC8C9kWpsJ.html (2 Feb 2020)

URAN WETLANDS

Remove debris from Bhendkhal wetlands in 15 days: HC Panel to CIDCOA Bombay HC appointed state wetland and mangrove panel has directed the City Industrial Development Corp (CIDCO) to clear within 15 days waste dumped illegally on Bhendkhal wetland, which falls in Uran’s (Uran is a small town in Navi Mumbai, part of Raigad district) eco-sensitive area. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/remove-debris-from-bhendkhal-wetlands-in-15-days-panel-to-cidco-6245350/  (1 Feb. 2020)

Activists write to CM over wetlands destruction Responding to environmentalists’ outcry against mangrove and wetlands’ destruction in Uran, state chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asked the environment department to look into the allegations and concerns raised.

Repeated spot inspections by the revenue and forest officials last year have confirmed the destruction of mangroves and wetlands; and the administration has been compelled to lodge police cases against unidentified persons under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. “Now it is time to fix the responsibility and not leave the case hanging against unnamed persons or officials,” added B N Kumar, director Nat Connect Foundation.

“NMSEZ stands appointed as the Special Planning Authority for the notified areas of Dronagiri, Kalamboli, Ulwe (waterfront) and Ulwe (airport) nodes of Navi Mumbai, under the provisions of Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, according to the information from one of the partners of the SEZ. However, since there is no clarity on the protection and preservation of mangroves and wetlands in Uran, we were left with no option but to write to the CM. We hope that the state environment minister soon resolves this matter,” said Kumar.

Environment groups NatConnect Foundation, Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan and fishermen’s forum Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti have pointed out that there has been a reckless destruction of mangroves and wetlands at Pagote, Bhendkhal and Panje under NMSEZ jurisdiction and that the Raigad dist administration has already filed police cases against unidentified officials.

Official records of land acquisition by the revenue dept also show that Panje is a marshy land and it belongs to the state govt, Tukaram Koli of Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti pointed out. “Hence it has been the destination for fishing for ages; but now our constitutional right to practice our trade for our survival has been snatched away from us,” Koli regretted. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/maharashtra-cm-responds-to-greens-outcry-on-uran-wetlands-destruction/articleshow/74260404.cms  (22 Feb. 2020)

Uran wetlands under threat Areas already identified under the highest level of protection under coastal protection laws have been opened up for development along the eastern seafront in the MMR, according to the new CZMP. These were draft maps & the Maharashtra govt called for suggestions and objections till March 1, 2020. City environmentalists objected to the areas, which include wetlands and mangrove forests, being recategorised. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/uran-wetlands-that-need-highest-protection-may-see-development/story-d0QohgYokYq1XrfRCuPXzN.html (27 Feb 2020)

Complain to PMO to check Uran garbage dump “This is the case of continuous reckless dumping of garbage and medical waste, unmindful of the coronavirus risk to over 3,000 residents in the vicinity in Uran, despite the revenue officials registering an FIR against the Uran Municipal Council,” said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation which had earlier complained to the prime minister office, besides other state authorities.

Kumar further added that with the Unlock 1.0, the volume of garbage being thrown into the mangroves increased, with far more frequency which further endangers this wetland. “It is also a violation of the Mangrove Committee direction which had asked the municipal council to stop the dumping and told local planner CIDCO to find an alternative site,” Kumar said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/pm-asks-maharashtra-govt-to-check-uran-garbage-dump-on-mangroves-issue/articleshow/76471483.cms (19 June 2020)

Anger over Raigad collector’s stand of ‘No wetlands in Uran’ There is shock & anger over the latest statement of the Raigad dist collector, Nidhi Choudhary, that “there are no wetlands in Uran” as per the 2017 wetland rules. The collector took this stand at Dec. 9, 2020 meeting of the Bombay HC appointed wetlands grievance committee. Environmentalist and member of the wetlands panel, D Stalin, raised a strong objection, while also complaining about it to the state env minister Aditya Thackeray. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/greens-angry-with-raigad-collectors-stand-of-no-wetlands-in-uran/articleshow/79648032.cms  (9 Dec 2020)

Environment groups proposed 17 small water bodies in Uran to be incorporated as wetlands. Stalin D, Director of Vanashakti said: “Reclamation of wetlands in Uran is a serious concern. Panje is a CRZ-1 area and neither the MCZMA (Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority) nor the collector is protecting it. Also, the other areas that have been proposed as wetlands are being reclaimed. Spread across 213 ha, with 157 ha as the buffer area for migratory bird roosting, Panje is home to around 1,50,000 migratory and resident birds during the winter. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/no-wetlands-in-uran-says-raigad-collector-7098703/  (10 Dec. 2020)

Tankers being used to drain water from Uran wetlands Following a site visit to Uran in Navi Mumbai on Dec. 10 2020, environmentalists have revealed that unidentified persons are drying up wetland patches using water tankers to drain large water bodies. The unidentified persons are also creating bunds inside the wetland to restrict water from flowing out and ensuring that it gets evaporated. The techniques were identified by the Bombay HC appointed wetland and mangrove grievance redressal committee member Stalin D and environmentalist Nandkumar Pawar.

Bhendkhal where tankers are being used to drain water from the site.(HT Photo)

10 new security cabins at the threatened Panje area in Uran have been set up. Both environmentalists took photos of the violations and shared them in a complaint before various bodies of the Maharashtra govt on Dec. 11. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-tankers-being-used-to-drain-water-from-uran-wetlands-more-security-cabins-set-up-at-panje/story-OaWhtZPi7ESypJbOqIZ9zH.html  (13 Dec. 2020)

Re-inspection of Uran wetlands hailed  The latest move by the Konkan division commissioner to form a sub-committee that will re-examine the wetland sites in Uran has been hailed. The Wetlands and Mangrove Committees chairman asked Raigad collector to appoint a sub-committee to ascertain the status of the wetlands in Uran and submit report within 15 days. The committee will have representatives from the collector, environment dept, police, apart from Stalin D. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-greens-hail-re-inspection-of-uran-wetlands/articleshow/79783520.cms  (17 Dec 2020)

PANJE WETLAND

CIDCO admits Panje wetland transferred to firm CIDCO has admitted that it had ‘transferred’ the eco-sensitive Panje wetland to Reliance Industries.

A CIDCO representative, during the monthly meeting of the Konkan Wetland Grievance Redressal Committee, stated that the transfer occurred in 2004. Environmentalists have expressed dismay over the CIDCO’s stance as the latter had earlier described Panje wetland as a holding pond as part of the flood control mechanism. “CIDCO has shockingly incorporated it under the development plan (DP) for the upcoming Dronagiri node. We vehemently opposed this and even requested the Union environment minister to accord the status of Ramsar Wetland to protect it from destruction,” said B.N. Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation.

The Wetland Committee in its latest meeting directed CIDCO to ensure flow of creek water to mangroves at Panje in view of complaints of the wetland drying up. “We have reported the complaints of mangrove destruction to the env dept,” said a committee member.

Activists have called for the scrapping of Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) & highlighted that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority had stated in the Bombay high court that Panje falls in the CRZ-1 category. “With CIDCO’s disclosure that Panje has been transferred to Reliance, we do not see Codcp working to save it. Cidco is trying to dry up the wetland for construction as it illegally built a concrete wall across the backwater stream & erected sluice gates to regulate water flow to the area,” alleged Nandakumar Pawar, an environmentalist. https://www.asianage.com/metros/mumbai/170220/cidco-admits-wetlands-transferred-to-firm.html   (17 Feb. 2020)

Activists ask govt to include wetlands in new CZMP Environmentalists called for including Panje wetland as part of the new Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP). In their suggestions to the draft CZMP floated by the environment dept for Raigad district, as part of the Union environment ministry’s new CRZ notification, the groups expressed dismay at the wetland being left out as a grey patch surrounded by mangrove buffer and CRZ-2. The CRZ notification was published in Jan 2020 and suggestions and objections close on March 7.

The wetlands committee, too, noted that the area has all characteristics of a wetland and asked CIDCO to protect it. Yet, there seem to be all out efforts to bury it, B N Kumar, director of Nat-Connect Foundation said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/include-wetland-in-new-coastal-zone-plan/articleshow/74434184.cms (2 Mar 2020)

Ornithologist and naturalist Sunjoy Monga said he had received reports of about 1,000 to 1,200 flamingo numbers at Panje.(Aishwarya Sridhar)

Flamingos’ year’s 1st visit to Panje While there are numerous reports of lesser flamingos spotted at Talawe wetlands, Panje remained dry throughout this year, as most of the high tide inlets to the site were blocked by construction, said environmentalists alleging that work for the NMSEZ was allowing environmental violations to happen. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/flamingos-make-their-way-to-panje-wetland-first-time-this-year/story-hwcGFgsVSx5BlHqjxm7WwJ.html (6 June 2020)

CM asks forest dept to look into Panje wetland mangroves chopping Following multiple complaints regarding the illegal hacking of mangroves at the Panje wetland in Uran, CM Uddhav Thackeray directed the state forest dept to look into this issue. The revenue dept officials will also be inquiring into the matter, along with the forest dept. The greens have welcomed the move and urged the authorities to effectively stop further degradation.

Debi Goenka of CAT said: “It is shocking that the mangroves at Panje are being illegally cut despite several complaints lodged with the state authorities in the last few days. This shows that certain vested interests are hellbent on grabbing the land. The forest dept and the Bombay HC mangroves protection panel must take tough measures.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/maharashtra-cm-asks-forest-department-to-look-into-panje-wetland-mangroves-chopping/articleshow/77838351.cms (30 Aug 2020)

Govt urged to declare Panje as bird sanctuary Following recent developments at the bird-rich Panje wetland in Uran, wherein an earth excavator machine was noticed by nature lovers, the city greens have shot an urgent letter to the state authorities seeking to declare Panje as a bird sanctuary and save it from further destruction.

“Earlier this week, some suspicious activities have been going on at Panje, which threaten to further degrade the 89 ha of the wetland. Some bird watchers who wanted to do nature photography were stopped from entering inside the site,” said BN Kumar of NatConnect Foundation. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/greens-urge-maharashtra-govt-to-declare-panje-as-bird-sanctuary/articleshow/78685963.cms (15 Oct 2020)

TWO WETLANDS IN THANE: TRAINING SHIP CHANAKYA & NRI COMPLEX

Wetlands exclusion opposed Environmentalists plan to file objections against Thane dist administration’s action of excluding two major birding areas—Training Ship Chanakya & NRI Complex—from the final wetland list as it would clear the way for a golf course & a residential colony with 17 towers. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-greens-see-red-over-wetland-exclusion/articleshow/74075547.cms  (11 Feb. 2020)

Govt re-examines ‘wetland’ status for Navi Mumbai flamingo havenThe Thane district administration’s various bodies have undertaken a fresh verification drive to determine whether two sites in Navi Mumbai can be declared wetlands following an application by an environmentalist, who is also a local resident. The team will make its submissions before the state wetland committee, which is headed by the Konkan commissioner, on October 27.

The team also identified debris dumping at the site and directed the CIDCO to clear it within a week. The sites included the 21.9 ha NRI Complex and 14.3-ha Training Ship Chanakya (TSC), where a record 9,000 flamingos had flocked in April and May.

However, both these sites were not included by the dist administration in their final list of newly identified and verified wetlands in line with 2017 wetland rules that was submitted to the state environment dept on Jan. 3. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/maharashtra-re-examines-wetland-status-for-navi-mumbai-flamingo-haven/story-ClEKPbMMLfbCb2UNA4zQWP.html  (21 Oct. 2020)

Wetlands, Mangroves Abuse, Threats & Citizen Efforts

Mangrove forest set on fire There was yet another mysterious fire incident inside the mangroves at Ulwe on Feb. 26 night. City based environmentalists who could easily see the flames from across the creek, have complained to the state & district level authorities. They have reiterated that this is a systematic destruction of mangroves by the land grabbers. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/74338126.cms  (27 Feb. 2020)

Concern over eco destruction during lockdownEnvironmentalist D Stalin, said: “There have been reports about a 25% increase in the number of flamingos along the Sewree coast & Navi Mumbai. However, due to large-scale destruction of wetlands in other parts like Mira-Bhayendar, Uran and Kharghar, I too feel that many coastal birds are now concentrated in the surviving wetlands. There is still some time for the govt to save the environment.”

The Navi Mumbai-based environmentalists once again reminded the state authorities about the promised Flamingo Sanctuary on the Seawoods site, where the earlier plan was to build an Integrated Golf Course. The golf course plan has faced severe criticism from nature lovers who have also shot photos & videos of hundreds of wetland birds present on this site during the lockdown.

NatConnect Foundation & Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan also called for careful examination of the MMRDA plans to expand the MMR and not to repeat the past mistakes of rapid urbanisation of Kalyan-Dombivili & Navi Mumbai. The disappearance of mudflats, scrapping of river regulatory zone, destruction of mangroves & wetlands have already led to massive floods during the last monsoon, the groups pointed out. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/as-bird-numbers-rise-in-mmr-wetlands-greens-concerned-over-eco-destruction-during-coronavirus-lockdown/articleshow/75329378.cms  (23 April 2020) 

Forest Dept on Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary and satellite wetlands Forest dept approved & published an official document showing 6 ecologically sensitive areas in the MMR as wetlands. The Thane creek flamingo sanctuary (TCFS) management plan 2020-2030, sanctioned by the state’s chief wildlife warden (CWLW) on June 18, has officially designated six sites – Bhandup (11 ha) in Mumbai, Panje (124 ha), Belpada (30 ha), Bhendkhal (8 ha) in Uran, Training Ship Chanakya (13 ha), NRI Complex (19 ha) in Navi Mumbai – as wetlands.

The areas have been listed as ‘satellite wetlands that need to be protected within a 50 km radius of TCFS’, the document read. This is the first time the state has also officially declared its intent to protect each site as either conservation or community reserve. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/6-sites-in-mmr-are-now-wetlands/story-7bjQTy3CoLdn8dXZmfwqUI.html  (22 June 2020)

Govt 2018 mangrove report challenged The Conservation Action Trust (CAT) filed a PIL in the Bombay HC to save a very large tract of mangrove land in Goregaon. The PIL argued that instead of being restored, the mangroves have now been subjected to “change of user from no development zone to a residential and special development zone”.  https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/civic/goregaon-mangrove-land-ngo-calls-2018-state-report-misleading-wants-change-in-dp/articleshow/76931147.cms   (13 July 2020)

CIDCO opposes bid to declare wetlands as conservation reserves CIDCO plans to develop a golf course and 17 buildings with 1,564 flats and 20 offices in the area. Environmentalists and residents have opposed the proposed constructions and the Bombay HC has stayed them. The matter is now pending before the SC.

The State Mangrove Cell in April proposed protection of five sites–NRI (21.9 ha), TSC (14 ha) in Navi Mumbai, and Panje (124 ha), Bhendkhal (8 ha) and Belpada (30 ha) in Uran–as conservation reserves based on a Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) report. It sought comments from the Raigad dist administration and landowners–CIDCO, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and some private companies–under the NMSEZ. JNPT and NMSEZ  rejected the proposed protection.

CIDCO called BNHS’s report incorrect and highlighted the latter’s 2014 report that recommended making areas, including TSC and NRI, near the Navi Mumbai International Airport unattractive for birds to avoid the risk of bird hits. It added the BNHS’s 2019 report overlooked this aspect of flight safety while recommending conservation reserves.

BNHS’s Deepak Apte said the suggestions made in the 2014 interim report were specific to a proposed mangrove park adjacent to NMIA’s runway. “It was not at all in the context of NRI, TSC, and the other three wetlands in Uran. Our view is consistent right from the beginning that all these five wetlands need to be protected.”

BNHS secretary Debi Goenka said it is common knowledge that a final report will subsume any interim report. “In any case, the NWIA Maharashtra, prepared by the ISRO already shows these areas as wetlands.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cidco-opposes-bid-to-declare-navi-mumbai-flamingo-havens-as-conservation-reserves/story-ThGrWHgNGmbunUXD2x9Y7L.html (8 Sep 2020)

Bandra locals take on fisheries dept over Chimbai shore destruction Four nature lovers have sent a legal notice to the state accusing it of causing permanent destruction of the rocky shore at Chimbai fishing village in Bandra and damaging the mangroves abutting the area. In their notice dated December 30, addressed to the Commissioner of Fisheries, Maria Thelma Suresh Poojary and three others have said that local fishermen are opposed to a government project to upgrade the existing jetty saying it makes their homes and fish-drying area vulnerable to flooding. The activists have already moved the Bombay High Court on the project and the case is scheduled to be heard soon. The project was erroneously granted the CRZ clearance dated 16.09.2019, says the notice. https://www.mid-day.com/articles/bandra-locals-take-on-fisheries-dept-over-chimbai-shore-destruction/23173247  (4 Jan. 2021)

Legal Interventions: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Bombay High Court to obtain the report of an expert body before it decides a pending petition which has challenged expansion of the landfill project.(express photo javed raja)

SC admits petition challenging new rules for wetlands The SC on Feb 20, 2020 issued notices to the Centre admitting a plea challenging the constitutional validity of Wetlands Rules, 2017. The SC bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose issued notices to the MoEF and ministry of law and justice based on a writ petition filed by Vanashakti, NGO. The petition, presented before the apex court on Feb 17, 2020, sought striking down of the wetland rules in its entirety, and urged the court to inventorise and protect 2,01,503 wetlands of more than 2.25 ha in size covered in the National Wetland Atlas (India) — developed by the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad under the ISRO in 2011.

Vanashakti’s petition challenged the rules on the grounds that it arbitrarily excludes a number of wetlands and that it allegedly gave unfettered powers to the Centre to carry out reclamation and destruction of wetlands as per its own discretion. The plea also challenges the Centre’s delegation powers to states to conduct a fresh wetland identification exercise. “The 2017 Rules drastically dilute the 2010 rules and makes the current laws a toothless legislation having no real protective measures. Protection of all of our last remaining wetlands is the dire need of the hour,” said Zaman Ali, counsel representing Vanashakti. The writ petition shall be heard along with other matters concerning wetlands pending since 2001, the SC said.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/supreme-court-admits-petition-challenging-new-rules-for-wetlands/story-yvGpsU9y7weY0jX3zYJBAO.html  (21 Feb. 2020)

SC expresses concern about flamingos, asks Bombay HC to seek expert viewThe SC was hearing an appeal by NGO Vanasakthi against an interim order of the HC, lifting the stay on enforcement of environmental clearance for expansion of the Kanjurmarg landfill in Thane. Expressing concern over the fate of the flamingo population in Thane Creek Sanctuary if a solid waste landfill comes up in its proximity, the SC asked the Bombay HC to obtain the report of an expert body before it decides a pending petition which has challenged expansion of the landfill project. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/supreme-court-expresses-concern-about-flamingos-asks-bombay-high-court-to-seek-expert-view-6268866/  (15 Feb. 2020)

Compiled by SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)  

2 thoughts on “Maharashtra Wetlands Overview 2020

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