Wetlands

Maharashtra Wetlands Overview 2021: Mumbai Civil Societies’ Untiring Efforts to Protect Wetlands, Mangroves

(Feature image source: FPJ https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/navi-mumbai-nmmc-chief-writes-to-forest-department-to-take-action-if-any-destruction-found-in-two-wetlands-in-nerul)

Civil Society groups in Maharashtra and particularly in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai have been doing exemplary work protecting the wetlands and mangroves for past several years. In 2021 too, the citizens kept raising multiple issues impacting the threatened wetlands and mangroves. The year also saw some positive outcomes.

This report highlights the significant efforts by the civil society groups, relevant steps by the state government and judiciary during 2021. We have already published three part series on India wetlands overview 2021. Part 1 covers important reports on current situation of wetlands in India, part 2 carries relevant reports on governmental actions and part 3 deals with significant judicial decisions. On World Wetlands Day 2022, we also published a collection of positive actions for protection of wetlands in 2021. We had also earlier published the Maharashtra Wetlands Overview for 2020.[i]

1. Collector identifies 17 ‘wetlands’ After complaints from environment activists, Raigad Collector Nidhi Chaudhary has identified 17 natural water bodies to be treated as wetlands in the district, including those which need to be protected and conserved. Ms. Chaudhary was informed about the complaints of wetlands being destroyed at a divisional commissioner meeting. “First we sent notices to the CIDCO and JNPT, and since there were no response from them, after verifying that some of the places under their jurisdiction fall under the definition of wetland, we sent a communique to the government,” Ms. Chaudhary said.

In response to a letter from the State Environment Department to identify wetlands as per the wetland atlas, Ms. Chaudhary in her communique said that some water bodies under the JNPT or CIDCO should be notified as wetlands. “Whether it is a natural or man-made pond, the fact that it falls under the definition of wetland, is enough, and it should be protected,” she said.

B.N. Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation, who has been following up the issue, said, “The letter vindicates our stand. Moreover, the list prepared by the Collector on the basis of the tehsildar’s ground report does not mention the areas of the individual wetlands. This is essential to prevent vested interests from shrinking the water bodies with landfill and then claim that these do not fit into the definition of wetland”. Of the wetlands identified in Uran, the ones at Sheva and Karal are under the JNPT and they are permanent freshwater marshes and shrub-dominated water bodies. “The JNPT refused to treat them as wetlands. Two other water bodies at Khopte and Bori BK are mangrove wetlands, and they must be protected,” Mr. Kumar said. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/collector-identifies-17-wetlands-in-raigad/article34136208.ece  (23 March 2021)

2. Landfills on Uran wetland opposed Environmentalists have protested over the resumption of landfill on mangroves and wetlands under Navi Mumbai SEZ in Uran with the contractors taking advantage of the absence of official surveillance due to the current lockdown. The Bombay high court appointed Mangrove and Wetland Committee had earlier halted the landfill by NMSEZ at Pagote and Bhendkhal, while the state environment minister Aditya Thackeray asked for stopping construction at Panje wetland by the project.

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B N Kumar, director of NGO NatConnect Foundation, said he has moved the HC committee and the state government to stop the landfill forthwith. “We have also sought details of permissions, if any, granted to NMSEZ for the landfill,” Kumar said and pointed out that such construction requires coastal zone clearances. The high court has explicitly banned the killing of mangroves. The halting of construction by the HC panel and the government clearly shows that the landfill is illegal, NatConnect said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-despite-lockdown-mangroves-destruction-restarts-in-uran/articleshow/82008031.cms  (10 April 2021)

Demand for FIR for mangroves burial at Dhutum Local environmentalists who have been struggling to save the coastal mangroves and wetlands, said that they have recently got confirmation through RTI and the latest field inspection of the revenue department that a large number of mangroves were destroyed through landfill at Dhutum area in Uran taluka. The greens have demanded that an FIR should be lodged at Uran so that the perpetrators are acted upon. A large tract of green mangroves in Dhutum, off the NH348 highway in Uran, were fully `buried’ with debris and earth. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-greens-demand-fir-after-confirming-burial-of-mangroves-at-dhutum/articleshow/81607256.cms  (20 March 2021)

Nerul’s protected lake is a dumping ground now The famous Lotus Lake in Navi Mumbai has become the latest target, with CIDCO allegedly dumping construction debris in it. Even though the lake is a notified wetland according to the Thane tehsildar’s report on Jan 20, 2021 and the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has taken no measures to protect it. Navi Mumbai-based environmentalist Sunil Agarwal has written to CM Uddhav Thackeray and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray about the ongoing dumping of debris in the lake at Sector 27, Nerul. https://www.mid-day.com/mumbai/mumbai-news/article/thane-three-cops-among-six-booked-for-abetting-man-suicide-23163431  (12 March 2021)

Another fire at Nerul mangroves Another fresh fire incident inside the protected mangroves in Nerul was reported by the local environmentalists in Seawoods on March 29, 2021, despite the presence of private security guards in this isolated stretch of the green zone. B N Kumar said, “The recurring fires in mangroves, forests and mangrove buffer zones appear to be part of a land grab racket. Dumping garbage and then burning it is also an encroachment ploy.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbai-greens-spot-another-fire-at-nerul-mangroves/articleshow/81749814.cms  (30 March 2021)

Environmentalists have raised an alarm over a fresh massive destruction of the migratory birds destination, the Savarkhar wetland in Uran, where a large-scale landfill is in progress. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/greens-raise-concern-over-large-scale-landfill-at-savarkhar-wetland-in-uran-101639225543040.html  (11 Dec. 2021)

Local residents & activists in Ulwe have complained that some people were dumping construction debris near the Ulwe mangroves & destroying several trees over the past 5-6 months. They added that the CIDCO has turned a blind eye to the strategic destruction of mangroves in Ulwe. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/construction-debris-illegally-dumped-near-mangroves-in-ulwe-claim-residents-101639142182859.html  (10 Dec. 2021)

3. Mangroves killed with JCBs in Kharghar Kharghar locals and city activists have complained to various state authorities about massive destruction of mangroves and a wetland site taking place in areas near sectors 16, 17, 25 among others which actually comes under CRZ due to the existence of inter-tidal zone. However, environmentalists have stated that local villagers are using JCBs to simply crush mangroves and make agricultural farming plots, while bunds are being created to do shrimp farming by making smaller water tanks. Activists said they may resort to a “peaceful” protest as they cannot see further environmental degradation that will directly affect wetland birds and wildlife like golden jackals seen in these parts.

Member of court-appointed Mangroves Protection Committee, D Stalin, said: “I inspected the damaged Kharghar sites last year. It is surprising that no government action was taken in spite of personally reporting this matter…” “A massive land grab is going on at Kharghar node. We have sent an urgent complaint to the chief minister’s office which emailed back to us that the forest secretary has been told to also look into this issue. So, we are hopeful,” said B N Kumar. NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan have complained to the CM about the destruction in progress at Kharghar. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/mangroves-killed-with-jcbs-as-locals-harvest-farming-options/articleshow/88906795.cms  (15 Jan. 2022)

Acting swiftly on the complaints of Kharghar residents about the massive destruction of mangroves and a wetland site in the intertidal area in Navi Mumbai, the state revenue officials have lodged an FIR under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The organised, planned prawn and crab culture ponds cutting into mangroves is an act of certain vested interests and not ordinary fishing community people, Pawar said and called going to the root cause of this menace. “These kinds of illegal activities bring a bad name to the law-abiding and simple fishing community,” he said.

The state forest dept has declared about 53 % of the 32,000-ha mangroves as protected forest. About 16,000 ha of mangroves have been categorized as private property which leaves about 3,000 ha under govt control that need to be declared as forest. The hundreds of ha of mangroves under the now de-notified Navi Mumbai SEZ are yet to be accounted for, Kumar said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-maharashtra-govt-files-fir-in-kharghar-mangroves-and-wetland-destruction-case/articleshow/88974584.cms  (18 Jan 2022)

Site of mangroves destruction at Sector 25 in Kharghar. Revenue officials registered a case under the Environment Protection Act against unidentified persons. (HT PHOTO)

A cursory check of Google images indicated that the mangroves might have been destroyed during 2005-09. But the prawns’ culture ponds have been freshly noticed, the FIR said, and registered a case under Section 15 of the Maharashtra Environment Protection Act, 1986. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/unidentified-persons-booked-for-mangroves-destruction-illegal-shrimp-farming-in-kharghar-101642517451058.html (18 Jan 2022)

Mangroves killed, tar road laid A mangrove patch in Andheri (west) has been destroyed and a tar road laid at that spot recently. None of the public agencies in charge of infrastructure has any clue as to how the road sprang up at SVP Nagar. At the same time, the BMC passed the buck to the collector’s office while they, in turn, laid the blame at the forest department’s door.

An environmental group, ShivTej Foundation, which has lodged a complaint alleged that an educational institute, National Education Society’s (NES), got the road laid for a building at the site. The institute has denied the claim. Environmentalists alleged that the road was laid to get approval for floor space index (FSI) for an under-construction project of an educational institute. Its management refuted the allegation, saying it has nothing to do with destruction of the mangroves or the road. Member of the high court-appointed mangroves panel D Stalin said, “It appears suspicious as to how the mangroves in the CRZ-1 area can be razed and a tar road laid there.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/mangroves-killed-tar-road-laid-and-no-one-has-a-clue-who-did-it/articleshow/87696123.cms  (14 Nov. 2021)

4. Not just Panje, there are no wetlands in entire Uran Taluka: Uran tehsildar  Refuting the claims, Andhare said, “Not a single area in the entire Uran Taluka has been notified as a wetland till date. No area of NMSEZ figures in the wetland list as well. “There were salt pans and paddy fields here in Uran previously. Raigad Collector has given an affidavit in the High Court giving a list of wetlands in Raigad District. There is no mention of any such wetland in Uran taluka. CIDCO, too, has repeatedly stated that Panje land is not a wetland.”

Andhare claimed that flap gates have been installed in the area to ensure free flow of tidal water from the creek. Water comes in during high tide and then recedes. It has nothing to do with the presence of any wetland. According to Andhare, “The issue here is of the fishing community that wants water flow and also local villagers who want a cricket ground which often results in differences.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/not-just-panje-there-are-no-wetlands-in-entire-uran-taluka-uran-tehsildar-101642076459340.html (13 Jan 2022)

‘Despite complaints destructed mangroves await restoration’ Since its inception in 2018, the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee (MPCC) has received an estimated 142 complaints regarding the destruction of mangroves in the state’s coastal districts. Of these, about 88 complaints have been ‘resolved’, with a few have been transferred to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) for their consideration. Another 54 odd complaints are pending resolution, according to committee members. However, committee members (including officials in the forest department’s mangrove cell) confirmed that not a single complaint has so far resulted in the restoration of damaged mangroves, which is part of the mandate given to the committee by the HC in its final judgement in Sept 2018. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/mumbaidespite-complaints-destructed-mangroves-await-restoration-say-experts-101629827884225.html  (24 Aug 2021)

‘No decision’ to declare wetlands as bird sanctuaries: Govt Responding to a RTI request from a Navi Mumbai-based environmentalist, the state revenue and forest department said “no decision” has so far been taken by the state wildlife board (SBWL) to declare wetlands in Sewri, Navi Mumbai and Uran as bird sanctuaries. These include 1,600 ha across Sewri-Mahul on the city’s eastern seafront, Panje-Funde in Uran, and the TSC-NRI wetland complex in Navi Mumbai. The govt’s response has drawn the ire of environmentalists, given that it is seemingly at odds with earlier commitments made by the state. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/no-decision-to-declare-wetlands-as-bird-sanctuaries-says-maharashtra-in-rti-101626204474806.html (14 July 2021)

5 years on, wetlands yet to be declared as bird sanctuaries More than five years have passed since former CM Devendra Fadnavis, acting as the chairman of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), approved a proposal to declare three wetlands in Mumbai, Raigad and Thane districts as bird sanctuaries. However, the respective water area — including wetlands of Mahul-Shivdi, Panje-Funde and TSC-NRI wetlands in Navi Mumbai — are yet to be notified as such, as per provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Activists earlier this week wrote to CM Uddhav Thackeray, drawing his attention to this delay, and urged him to expedite protection for these ecologically sensitive areas, which support a rich biodiversity of migratory birds during winter months. The Fadnavis government had, on December 4, 2015, proposed to declare nearly 1,600 ha of wetland as bird sanctuary while approving the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link project. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/five-years-after-wildlife-board-nod-wetlands-yet-to-declared-as-bird-sanctuaries-101620241122064.html  (06 May 2021)

5. Govt forms panel to verify status of Uran wetlands The state govt set up a special committee on Jan. 6 2021 to verify the status of all wetlands in Uran identified under the National Wetland Inventory Atlas (NWIA), Maharashtra 2011. The committee was set under the direction of the Bombay HC appointed Konkan wetland grievance redressal and the state mangrove monitoring committee after the Raigad dist administration told the court that there were no wetland sites in Uran taluka.

The committee was formed following directions of the Konkan wetland grievance redressal and the state mangrove monitoring committee after the Raigad district administration told the court that there were no wetland sites in Uran taluka. (HT FILE)

The committee will be chaired by the sub-divisional officer and will include forest and Cidco officials as members. An official from the state dept of environment and climate change will be appointed as the secretary. D Stalin of Vanashakti is a member of the panel. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/maharashtra-forms-panel-to-verify-status-of-uran-wetlands-101610286088854.html  (10 Jan. 2021)

Govt notifies 121 ha of mangrove area in Palghar as forest land  In a gazette notification on Feb 5, the govt announced that the 121.78 ha will be handed over to the state forest dept. Earlier, on Jan 13, 1,388 ha of mangrove area in Thane was notified as forest land. The state Mangrove Cell has also notified 1,509 ha in Palghar and 502.95 ha of mangroves land in Kurla as a reserved forest for conservation. A gazette notification to this effect was issued Feb 10, 2021. On Jan 12, the state notified 1,575.16 ha of mangrove lands along the state’s coast. This is in line with a Bombay High Court order directing the govt to hand over all mangrove areas on the govt land to the forests dept for better conservation. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/maharashtra-notifies-121-ha-of-mangrove-area-in-palghar-as-forest-land-101613459755664.html  (16 Feb. 2021)

916-ha of mangroves now a reserved forest A total of 916 ha of mangroves in Borivli taluka of Mumbai (suburban) district were declared a reserve forest under Section 20 the Indian Forest Act, via gazette notification on March 23. The mangroves are spread across Charkop, Borivli, Manori, Gorai, Goregaon Pahadi, Valnai, Malvani, Marve, Akse, Erangal and Darvali villages. Declaring areas as reserved forest grants them legal sanctity, and aims to conserve biodiversity by curtailing activities like harvesting of natural resources. This development comes three weeks after 409 ha of mangrove forests in Alibag taluka in Raigad district were similarly declared on March 5. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/916ha-of-mangroves-now-a-reserved-forest-101616788112519.html  (27 March 2021)

1,450 ha mangroves to come under Forest Dept Under pressure from the Bombay High Court and activists, government agencies have initiated the process of notifying over 1,450 hectares of mangroves as reserve forests in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). To begin with, CIDCO will hand over 219 hectares of mangrove stretches in Kamothe and Panvel to the Maharashtra Forest Department for conservation, announced Virendra Tiwari, additional chief principal conservator of forests.

Speaking as the chief guest at an online discussion organized by NGO NatConnect Foundation ahead of the UNESCO-driven International Mangrove Conservation Day which is being observed on July 26, Tiwari said MMRDA has also agreed to transfer 300 ha of mangroves. JNPT has also agreed in principle to hand over the mangroves under it after ascertaining through a high-resolution mapping by Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC). The port has already confirmed in an RTI response to NatConnect that it has over 913 ha of mangroves under its jurisdiction. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/west/1450-ha-mangroves-to-come-under-maharashtra-forest-dept-fold-for-protection-1012569.html  (25 July 2021) 

Govt includes 961 ha mangroves in reserved forest State Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray had tweeted that earlier 1,433 ha mangroves were declared as reserved forest under Section 20 of the Act. With this, the total mangrove area under protection in Ratnagiri is now more than 2,394 ha, Thackeray said in his latest tweet on Oct. 29, 2021. Cidco itself has said that it has over 1,000 hectares to be transferred, and a recent declaration by JNPT said it has more than 900 hectares, Kumar tweeted in response to Thackeray’s tweet. He pointed out that vast sea forests under Navi Mumbai SEZ are yet to be accounted for.

Kharghar-based activists such as Naresh Chandra Singh and Jyoti Nadkarni have been drawing the government’s attention to the destruction of mangrove stretches in the node. This delay is only facilitating vested interests to destroy the mangroves for land-grab or illegal crab and prawn farming, greens said.

Meanwhile, landfill and dumping of debris on mangroves in Ulwe and several parts of Uran have also been on the rise, Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, said. Seawoods-based environmentalist Sunil Agarwal said that while it is good that mangroves are being preserved in other districts, they are being illegally destroyed and encroached upon in Navi Mumbai, where there is a plan to make a golf course. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbai-state-govt-includes961-ha-mangroves-in-reserved-forest/articleshow/87379231.cms  (30 Oct. 2021)

Forest dept to take over mangroves in Dharavi area Officials said that around 20-25 hectares of mangrove area in Dharavi, which currently falls with the planning authority MMRDA, will be taken control of by the forest department for better protection. The area forms a part of the Mahim creek sanctuary.

Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is also the suburban guardian minister, took a leading role in getting the mangrove protection cell to take over the mangroves. (File/TIE)

Virendra Tiwari, Additional Chief Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Mangrove Protection Cell) said, “Last year, we acquired 281 hectares from CIDCO and nearly 500 hectares from the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in Gorai and Manori, 1,387 hectares in Mira Bhayander, Uttan and Thane. We are deploying guards from the Maharashtra Security Force to protect them.” https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/forest-dept-to-take-over-mangroves-in-dharavi-area-7726874/  (17 Jan. 2022)

6. HC stays post-facto CRZ clearance for projects The Bombay HC on May 7 2021 stayed a recent office memorandum issued by the MoEF, allowing the ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained CRZ clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011.The stay was in response to PIL filed by a Mumbai-based environmental group, challenging the constitutional validity of MoEF’s direction. The matter has been listed for final hearing on June 30, before a two-judge bench comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni. The impugned OM, dated Feb 19, 2021 and authored by joint secretary of MoEF’s CRZ division Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, was also stayed by the Madurai bench of the Madras HC on April 29, in response to a different petition. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/bombay-hc-stays-post-facto-crz-clearance-for-projects-101620415141813.html  (08 May 2021)

‘Prima Facie Dilutes Environment Act’:  Bombay HC Retrains MoEF from Granting Post-facto CRZ Clearance. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/bombay-high-court-retrains-moef-from-granting-post-facto-crz-clearance-173933  (10 May 2021)

7. Panje officially declared a wetland by Space Application Centre Green activists who have been struggling to save the bird-rich Panje wetland in Uran taluka of Navi Mumbai are happy and excited by the latest development in the MoEF&CC as the Space Application Centre has formally reported to the Union ministry that Panje’s status is that of a wetland. Panje was mentioned in the earlier Wetland Inventory Atlas too, but the authorities ignored this fact for years, despite CAT pointing it out, Goenka said.

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The latest National Wetland Decadal Change Atlas prepared by the Space Application Centre has been uploaded on the website of MoEF&CC. It highlights the wetlands statistics in terms of diversity, current status and changes in the last 10 years in various types of wetlands. The ‘space-based observation of Indian wetlands’ highlights that the latest total wetland area in India is estimated to be 15.98 Mha (million hectares) including rivers and excluding paddy field areas which is 0.64 Mha — more than the earlier estimates carried out in 2006-07.

With regards to Panje area, the Atlas highlights the inter-tidal water flow area, the mangroves and the salt pans. The wetland is home to over 200,000 local and migratory birds – a fact which has been ignored by the authorities. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has already declared the area as CRZ-1 category property which requires clearances for any construction. The illegal security at Panje has been forcibly preventing BNHS researchers, media, environmentalists and wildlife photographers from entering Panje. Some miscreants, apparently aided by the security, have even tried to chase away the birds at Panje wetland by bursting firecrackers. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-panje-officially-declared-a-wetland-by-space-application-centre/articleshow/89411494.cms  (07 Feb. 2022)

Panel backs greens on Panje wetland, junks Cidco’s claim In a major relief for environmentalists fighting to save the 289-hectare Panje wetland and its biodiversity, the Bombay high court-appointed Wetlands Committee has refused to accept Cidco’s contention that the Panje site in Uran taluka is not a wetland. During the latest meeting held by the HC-appointed wetland panel, one of its members, D Stalin, stood strong on his stand that Panje is a wetland since intertidal waters are still seen here and continue to attract hundreds of wetland birds, like the flamingos. “Cidco wanted a closure on complaints about landfills and other violations at the Panje site on the grounds that it is not a wetland. I, however, reasoned that intertidal waters are still seen at Panje, and so are wetland birds, after which the panel refused to close the case files,” said Stalin. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-panel-backs-greens-on-panje-wetland-junks-cidcos-claim/articleshow/89395266.cms  (07 Feb. 2022)

Wetlands panel directs Cidco to restore tidal flow into Panje The panel took this decision at their meeting on Oct. 25 2021, which has been welcomed. Taking up the issue raised by committee member Stalin D, the committee chairman and Konkan divisional commissioner Vilas Patil stressed that the water flow must be maintained which the NGT too directed.  Stalin also strongly advocated revocation of the lease of the Panje wetland to a private company, in order to properly conserve this wetland. Moreover, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has itself categorised the area as CRZ-1. The Committee chairman felt that the revocation could be considered if there were any violations.

Meanwhile, Panje wetland has gone dry again after the monsoon wet spell threatening the biodiversity, B N Kumar has complained to CM Uddhav Thackeray. Thackeray has already asked the Forest and Urban Development Departments to look into NatConnect’s suggestion for declaring Panje wetland as a Biodiversity Park and conserve the waterbody and the mangroves around it. The stalemate over the wetland status of Panje continued with green groups pointing out the 300-ha contiguous place meets the Ramsar Convention definition of a wetland and Cidco denying this and sticking to its guns. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-restore-tidal-flow-into-panje-wetlands-panel-directs-cidco/articleshow/87285821.cms  (26 Oct. 2021)

NGT asks CIDCO to clear water inlets at Panje NGT on April 16 2021 instructed the CIDCO to ensure that all tidal water inlets to its 289 ha property in Uran are opened immediately to ensure flow of sea water to Panje coastal wetland and its mangrove forests. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/ngt-asks-cidco-to-clear-water-inlets-at-panje-wetland-101618515852525.html  (16 April 2021)

Inlets to Panje wetland opened, Raigad collector tells NGT  Nearly 8 months after the NGT first told the Cidco to ensure that all tidal water inlets to its 289-ha property in Uran are opened immediately to ensure flow of seawater to Panje coastal wetland and its mangrove forests, the Raigad district collector informed the court that it has ensured Cidco’s compliance with these instructions. Last November, the Bombay high court (HC) had ruled that blocking the flow of tidal water to the area would be deemed a violation. In September 2018, Cidco had shut 76 sluice gates using a flood-control mechanism to close high-tide water ingress.

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Some gates had also been damaged, which environmentalists said was starving the adjacent mangrove forests of water. In October 2019, following complaints submitted to the state mangrove cell and interventions by the wetland grievance redressal committee, these gates were opened by Cidco. However, 5 culverts, which form the main channel for the flow of water between Panje and the sea remained shut, prompting Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP) to file a petition in NGT. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/inlets-to-panje-wetland-opened-raigad-collector-tells-ngt-101636463947167.html  (09 Nov. 2021)

Declare Panje wetland as ‘bird sanctuary’: HC Bombay high court on Nov. 15 2021 issued a notice to the Maharashtra coastal zone management, national and state wildlife boards and others on a PIL filed to declare Panje as a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife Act.

The PIL filed by Vanashakti sought directions from the high court to declare “Panje-Dongri Wetlands” as a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The PIL said, “If Panje-Dongri wetlands are not protected, migratory birds will pose an extreme high-security risk to the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport. The PIL also made the central government, through the MoEF, additional principal chief conservator of forests as parties. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/panje-wetland-as-bird-sanctuary-bombay-hc-issues-notice/articleshow/87725265.cms  (16 Nov. 2021)

8. Hopes of saving wetlands soar as NMMC wants ‘Flamingo City’ tag Even as the Centre has mounted pressure on the Maharashtra environment department on the issue of saving the NRI and TS Chanakya wetlands at Seawoods, Nerul, from getting buried for a golf course, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has evinced interest in conserving the water bodies as part of its mission ‘Flamingo City’. The State Mangrove Foundation has already expressed its desire to protect the wetlands as part of the extended Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary management proposed by BNHS.

“The world wants to conserve the wetlands listed by the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment Atlas, but only the city planner CIDCO is a stumbling block,” said B N Kumar in his latest missive to the Union Environment Department. Responding to the environmentalists’ plea for intervention, Dr M Ramesh, scientist at the Union environment ministry has sent a second reminder to the State Wetland Authority seeking “necessary action”. Meanwhile, NMMC has requested CIDCO to hand over the NRI and TS Chanakya wetlands and the Lotus Lake in Nerul to the civic body for maintenance. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-hopes-of-saving-wetlands-soar-as-nmmc-wants-flamingo-city-tag/articleshow/88813311.cms  (10 Jan. 2022)

It’s ‘now or never’ to save existing wetlands Environmentalists have urged the authorities that the very fact that wetland birds like flamingos and ducks are being painted for beautification, it is high time that the civic body and others also protect the existing wetlands at Seawoods, Kharghar and Uran. The activists said that they are also writing to the Raigad and Thane collectors to include these wetlands in the updated list that will be sent to the state environment department by Jan 15 2022.

Welcoming the State Wetland Authority’s directive to district collectors to submit fresh, updated lists of wetlands, city-based environmentalists have said “this is the last chance” to conserve water bodies in Navi Mumbai where rapid destruction is in progress under the guise of development. The Wetland Authority, presided over by state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, has sent instructions to all district collectors to submit their lists by Jan 15. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-its-now-or-never-to-save-existing-wetlands-or-flamingos-wont-come-back-warn-activists/articleshow/88695587.cms  (4 Jan 2022)

NMMC asks Forest Dep to take action if any destruction found in 2 wetlands in Nerul Navi Mumbai municipal commissioner Abhijit Bangar has written to the Forest Department to take action if they found any destruction of two wetlands located at sector 56 in Nerul behind TS Chanakya and NRI complex. Environmentalists had raised concerns over the change in the natural flow of water between the two wetlands due to human interference. Bangar has also appointed Dadasaheb Chabukaswar, deputy commissioner as the nodal officer to coordinate and follow-up with the Forest officials.

The wetlands are natural habitats of migratory bird Flamingo and every year during winter, the wetland turns pink with the presence of a large number of flamingos. However, due to blocking the inter-tidal water into the two wetlands, the migratory birds have started skipping the area and activists said the Flamingo City concept is thus threatened. Recently, Navi Mumbai city has received a tag of Flamingo city and the civic body has made paintings across the city as part of the Cleanliness Survey 2022. https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/navi-mumbai-nmmc-chief-writes-to-forest-department-to-take-action-if-any-destruction-found-in-two-wetlands-in-nerul  (05 Feb. 2022)

9. ‘Attempts being made to drive away flamingos’ Navi Mumbai based Environmentalist Sunil Aggarwal said, “Systematic attempts are being made to drive away the flamingos from the NRI Wetlands. Earlier the outflow of water was blocked to make it stagnant and unattractive for the birds.” He further said that since the last two days a huge number of birds were coming to the wetlands. He has also written a letter regarding the same to the Mangroves Cell, police commissioner and other departments concerned. https://www.mid-day.com/mumbai/mumbai-news/article/attempts-being-made-to-drive-away-flamingos-navi-mumbai-green-activist-23174119  (20 May 2021)

Flamingos face shrinking wetlands The network of wetlands in Navi Mumbai serve largely as the roosting grounds for flamingos and other waders, who fly over from their feeding grounds in Thane Creek during high tide. Local residents and environmental experts said that Uran’s wetlands have been systemically reclaimed and dried out, as dumping of mud and construction debris into water bodies and mangrove swamps has been a regular occurrence in the area for about a decade.

In an interim report submitted to the state forest department last year, the Bombay Natural History Society noted, “Panje was one of the larger wetlands (which) used to support a huge population of migratory birds. Now, as Panje is disturbed due to changing water flow, it can be assumed that the avifauna that was coming to Panje might have started using the other suitable sites.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/flamingos-face-shrinking-wetlands-101624042825859.html  (19 June 2021)

10. MoEF notifies revised ESZ around Thane flamingo sanctuary The Union environment ministry has notified a revised eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of 48 sq km around the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary, spread across Mumbai suburban and Thane districts. The draft proposal, which was sent to the ministry by the Maharashtra govt in March, was gazetted on April 30. The ministry has given a 60-day window to receive public comments on the notification.

Environmentalists, however, remained skeptical of the development. “The solution here is to declare TCFS as a wildlife sanctuary under the Wildlife Act. An ESZ notification won’t offer much protection as seen in case of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, where developmental activities are undertaken inches away from the boundary of the protected area,” said D Stalin, director, Vanashakti. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/centre-notifies-revised-eco-zone-around-thane-flamingo-sanctuary-101620158239835-amp.html  (05 May 2021)

Until recently, the city had only two protected green zones – the Sanjay Gandhi National Park spread over 28,367 acres, and the Aarey colony stretching over 3,500 acres. The Flamingo Sanctuary with an expanse of 4,190 acres now becomes the second largest open space in Mumbai. It boasts of 2,214 acres of mangroves and a 1,962-acre creek. The sanctuary’s ‘management plan’ has proposed a spend of Rs 100 crore over the next ten years to create various facilities for the visitors and other developments. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/mumbais-newest-open-space-is-a-paradise-few-know-about/articleshow/80656430.cms  (03 Feb. 2021) 

More than 11,000 people have visited the sanctuary in just the last 2.5 months. A massive jump from the 7000-odd visitors who came here in 2017-18. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/videos/mumbai/from-watchtowers-to-modern-interactive-platform-heres-what-thane-creek-flamingo-sanctuary-has-to-offer/videoshow/80663676.cms  (03 Feb. 2021)

MoEF nod to reduce the 10km buffer zone from the boundary of the eco-sensitive TCFS to 3.89 km will help speed up stalled real estate proposals, property market sources said. However, civic sources said a formal notification from the ministry is awaited. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/centre-nod-to-shrink-thane-creeks-buffer-zone-a-relief-in-mumbai-builders/articleshow/85442908.cms  (19 Aug. 2021)

Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary. An ESZ is a buffer area created around a wildlife sanctuary or national park to reduce developmental pressures. The Centre has recommended final notice. (HT PHOTO)

After several months of being in the offing, the MoEF has recommended final notification for the delineated ESZ around the TCFS. The decision was taken during the Union environment ministry’s ESZ Expert Committee meeting on Aug 17, 2021. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/centre-recommends-final-notice-on-esz-around-thane-creek-flamingo-sanctuary-101631205655111.html  (09 Sept. 2021)

On July 30, when after a passage of 90 days, the Union ministry did not issue a notification, chief engineer Vinod Chithore of the BMC development plan department, issued a circular declaring a 10-km radius around the sanctuary as ESZ. The circular created a scare among builders as many projects were to be affected with the implementation of the plan. Days later, the MoEFCC indicated that the ESZ would be restricted to a radius of 3.89 km from the boundary of the sanctuary. It called a meeting on August 17 and said the final notification would come three months later.

The sanctuary, spread over 16 sq km, was carved out for protecting the habitat of flamingos. It is located between Eastern Express Highway and Sion-Panvel Highway. The ESZ is supposed to act as a transition zone from areas of high protection to less protection. The National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016 had identified them as “vital ecological corridor links” and stressed that they must be protected to prevent isolation of fragments of biodiversity. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/centre-notifies-eco-sensitive-zone-around-thane-creek-0-to-3-9-km-7580679/ (20 Oct. 2021)

Golf course on flamingo zone: Centre responds to greens’ SOS Taking cognisance of the environmentalists’ concern over the move to bury flamingo destination NRI and TS Chanakya wetlands at Nerul for a golf course, the Centre has asked the Maharashtra Environment Department to take action into the complaints “on priority”. https://www.newsband.in/?p=26948  (8 Dec. 2021)

Some Other Relevant Reports

Sea water supply cut off to kill mangroves: Activist Harish Pandey, an environment activist working with New Link Road Residents Forum, has written to the mangrove protection cell, BMC and local police that major environmental violations such as cutting of mangroves, building of bunds and blocking of sea water have been witnessed in the mangroves of Dahisar West on government land. The access is only from sea and boats, he said. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/crime/sea-water-supply-cut-off-to-kill-mangroves-activist/articleshow/81132513.cms  (21 Feb. 2021)

‘Uran mangroves ideal for Bollywood’s desert locations’ “With concerned authorities remaining unconcerned over the relentless destruction of the fragile biodiversity, Bollywood producers might as well make use of the man-made deserts and barren lands for their shoots,” said BN Kumar. “This is no exaggeration as innumerable complaints to the government and the orders from the environment department and even the high court-appointed wetlands and mangroves committees have not yielded any results to save nature in Uran,” he said. “The CIDCO, which has all along been neglecting the environment, might as well be the nodal agency for booking film-shoot sites,” said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/uran-mangroves-ideal-for-bollywood-s-desert-locations-101617131570091.html  (31 March 2021)

Tidal waters illegally blocked Environmentalists have complained to the state authorities that the large wetland behind NRI Complex in Seawoods, sector 60 Nerul, is being slowly choked’ by making illegal blockages or bunds to make the tidal waters stagnant, and thereby drive away the coastal birds from the site.

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“The huge wetland of over 20 ha behind NRI Complex is highly vulnerable at this stage because some people have built illegal bunds at several points to block the tidal waters. This wetland is part of the National Wetland Atlas that is recognized by the Supreme Court of India. Hence, I have written to the authorities to immediately take corrective steps to save this green zone which used to be visited by hundreds of birds earlier,” said Sunil Agarwal of Save Navi Mumbai Environment group. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-tidal-waters-illegally-blocked-at-nri-wetland-sector-60-nerul-complain-greens/articleshow/81469078.cms  (12 May 2021)

Death threats issued to local Panje birdwatcher A local villager and avid birdwatcher in Uran, Parag Gharat, was verbally abused and issued death threats by two other villagers in front of government officials and environmentalists who were inspecting the Panje wetland to check on illegal blockage of tidal water flow and the misuse of firecrackers to scare away wetland birds like the flamingos from Panje. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-death-threats-issued-to-local-panje-birdwatcher-in-front-of-government-officials/articleshow/88480102.cms  (24 Dec. 2021)

The two Uran villagers, Dharmendra Patil & Hemant Patil, who threatened environmentalists & also obstructed the work of Uran tehsildar while the group was officially inspecting the Panje wetland site, have been sent to jail based on the FIR by the tehsildar Bhausaheb Andhare.

Tehsildar Andhare earlier said,” The local villagers have some issues with regards to the tidal water flow, which are opposed by some environmentalists. I want to state here that these are not notified wetlands at Panje-Dongari, as per our govt documents. I had lodged the police complaint after the incident on Dec 29.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/maharashtra-two-uran-villagers-jailed-for-abusing-greens-and-obstructing-tehsildar-on-wetland-issue/articleshow/88637973.cms  (1 Jan 2022)

Additional Reports on Government Action

Central govt panel recommends fresh EC for Navi Mumbai airport The recommendation was made during the EAC meeting on Oct 8. All the terms and conditions of the EC granted in 2010 for the project’s nodal agency Cidco have been retained.

Last year, activists had filed objections against granting of fresh EC and CRZ for the project and highlighted the alleged violations and non-compliance of conditions imposed during previous clearances, from objections related to site selection, violation of wetland rules, bird strike hazard safety, furnishing of incomplete information by Cidco to livelihood risks, impact of heritage areas and ecosystems near NMIA.

The present site was selected for this project despite the fact that 26% of the airport site falls in CRZ-1 (most ecologically sensitive) category and comprised 400 acres of mangroves, 1,000 acres of mud flats and 250 acres of forest lands, environmentalists from Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust (CAT) alleged in a letter to EAC last year. “The haste in [pre-development] reclamation led to flooding across Kombudbhuj, Dungi, Paragaon, Khalche Owale and Bhangarpada villages across Ulwe,” the letter alleged. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/central-govt-panel-recommends-fresh-environmental-clearance-for-navi-mumbai-airport-101636557381450.html  (10 Nov. 2021)

This permission was subject to certain conditions, namely that BMC will stop the ingress of raw sewage into the lake, carry out regular bioaccumulation studies along with water and sediment analysis reports (Vijay Bate)

MoEF asks state wetland authority to act on herbicide use in Powai Lake Stalin D, director of Vanashakti, which first raised the issue, said, “The lake is a crocodile habitat. You need to seek necessary clearances from the wildlife department, which BMC has clearly not done. Water hyacinths are invasive, but to remove them you need to first stop the entry of raw sewage into the lake, which has also not been achieved by BMC.” He added, “Bioaccumulation studies may tell you when the level of glyphosate in the water crosses detectable levels, but the more effective way to tackle the issue is through arresting the pollution source, not introducing known contaminants into a natural environment.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/centre-asks-state-wetland-authority-to-act-on-herbicide-use-in-powai-lake-101642688196192.html  (20 Jan. 2022)

The Institute of Wood Sciences and Technology, Bangalore, has suggested different bio-control methods to eradicate the pest infestations that are largely seen across mangroves along Mumbai and Maharashtra coasts after winter season. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mangroves-too-need-virus-jab-to-survive-pest-attack-in-mumbai-study/articleshow/85937378.cms  (05 Sept. 2021)

Mumbai needs 71 ha of mangrove land for transmission lines The already-shrinking mangrove pockets in Mumbai & Thane may lose green pockets as big as 8 Oval Maidans to make way for transmission towers to meet the city’s growing appetite for electricity. The project entails denotification of 71 ha of mangroves to install 47 transmission towers over 14.5 kms.

While the lines will pass through the Thane creek flamingo sanctuary, authorities said they have charted the alignment keeping in mind protected patches of forest, flamingo roosting and feeding sites and accessibility. Kharghar Vikhroli Transmission Pvt Ltd, which is implementing the project, has approached the MoEF for approval to clear the mangroves. Considering the potential damage to ecologically important landscapes, the project also requires clearances from authorities like CRZ, forest and the National Board for Wildlife. https://www.mid-day.com/mumbai/mumbai-news/article/power-hungry-mumbai-needs-71-hectares-of-mangrove-land-for-transmission-lines-23162357  (05 Feb. 2021)

Eye in the sky to watch mangroves The Maharashtra Mangrove Cell has planned to acquire a drone and set up a CCTV camera network across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to keep an eye on mangrove destruction by debris and land mafia. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/eye-in-the-sky-to-watch-maharashtra-mangroves/article34645382.ece  (26 May 2021)

Additional Reports on Judicial Interventions

SC stays cutting of mangroves to build overbridge at Yari Road Supreme Court recently stayed cutting of mangroves for construction of a vehicular overbridge at the junction of Yari Road and Lokhandwala back road in Versova, Andheri. The bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Rama Subramanian issued notices to the central and state govts, BMC, MMRDA and Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority in a petition filed by group of residents largely from Versova. Their counsel Devadutta Kamat argued that forest clearance for the project was pending and, hence, felling of mangroves must be stayed. The residents had gone to the apex court against the Dec 2020 dismissal of their PIL by the HC. The PIL filed in 2019 had expressed concern at the destruction of mangroves that would be caused by the bridge project. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbai-sc-stays-cutting-of-mangroves-to-build-overbridge-at-yari-road/articleshow/81817273.cms  (01 April 2021)

Clear debris, restore Nerul’s Lotus Lake: HC In an oral direction to Navi Mumbai Municipal Corp, Bombay high court on July 9, 2021 asked it to remove debris and restore Lotus Lake at Nerul. “This is very serious,” said a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni while hearing a PIL by advocate Pradeep Patole to save the nearly 7.5-acre lake and verified wetland surrounded by marshy areas and mangroves at the foothills of Parsik Hill.

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The petition stated till 2020, activists and nearby residents had protected the lake from encroachment and debris dumping. However, in Feb 2020, before the lockdown, the land/ slum mafia cleared most of the lotus plants; debris and garbage were dumped on the lake and huts sprouted in the area.

The judges said NMMC and CIDCO are planning authorities and instead of pointing to each other “must work together and the problem should be solved.” “We would take precautions for it,” Marne assured. The judges said they were not passing any order. “Next week we want a statement that the debris is removed and the lake is restored to its original position,” the Chief Justice said. The judges were hopeful Marne “will use his good offices with NMMC and see to it that the order is complied with.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/clear-debris-restore-neruls-lotus-lake-says-bombay-hc/articleshow/84280418.cms  (10 July 2021)

Make efforts to declare Lonar crater lake as wetland: HC With a view to provide better protection and conservation to Lonar crater lake, the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court on Jan. 6, 2022 directed its development committee (LCLDC) to make efforts to declare it as a wetland. The judges directed LCLDC to modify the development plan on the lines suggested by them and after incorporating the suggestions given by Srivastav send it to the Maharashtra govt for approval. “The whole exercise of modification of the plan, its submission to the govt and sanction being accorded by it, shall be completed within 4 months. After the approval, its implementation shall be started within 2 weeks and completed in five years as suggested by the panel,” the judges said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/make-efforts-to-declare-lonar-crater-lake-as-wetland-hc/articleshow/88764302.cms  (08 Jan. 2022)

Garbage dumping ground on Uran mangroves to be beautified The nearly 4 ha garbage dumping ground in the mangroves area of Uran across Mumbai harbour would soon be beautified following a Bombay High Court order and then handed over to the forest department. Uran Municipal Council (UMC), which was at the receiving end of the greens for allegedly dumping garbage on mangroves and wetland at Bori Pakhadi, has initiated the process of scientific closure of the dumping ground through bio-mining and bio-remediation process. The work costing ₹10.50 lakh started on Jan 21, 2022 & is expected to be completed in 3 months. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/garbage-dumping-ground-in-mangroves-area-of-uran-to-be-beautified-101642853862652.html  (22 Jan. 2022)

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

REFERENCES:


[i] https://sandrp.in/2021/01/05/maharashtra-wetlands-overview-2020/

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