A committee appointed by the Bombay high court for mangrove preservation has said in its report that in between 2013 and 2018, the city lost at least 22 hectares of mangroves. The committee was formed in October 2016 to preserve mangroves in Konkan region which include Mumbai.
Mangrove forests act as a natural storm/flood stopping barrier.
A member of the committee, Reji Abraham has told the Hindustan Times that the destruction happened at two sites in Malad-Malwani and Charkop and the green cover lost is 1.48 hectares, i.e. 15 times the area of Wankhede stadium. He alleged that near the Indian Navy Station, debris was being dumped across a 14.2-hectare patch, Hamla, Marve Road, Malad (West). In the second and third case, debris was dumped across 6.25-ha and 1.5-ha patches behind Evershine Nagar, Malad (West) and Charkop village, Kandivli. To show how the forest has been destroyed he had also submitted satellite images from 2005 and 2018. Abraham is the founder and president of United Association for Social, Educational and Public Welfare Trust.
The report by the committee comes within a few weeks after the 33% increase in mangrove cover in Mumbai reported by the Forest Survey of India’s State of the Forest Report 2017. This report also documents a 16 square kilometres (1,600 hectares) increase from 2015, taking the tally to 64 square kilometres (6,400 hectares).
“Unabated destruction of mangrove trees continues in Mumbai without the fear of the law. Land mafia, in connivance with civic officials and corrupt officers from the revenue department and mangrove cell, acquires land illegally through rabid dumping,” said Abraham to the Hindustan Times. “In such a situation, the report regarding the rise in mangrove cover only seems to be a farce.”
After filing of public interest litigation (PIL) by the Bombay Environment Action Group in 2005, the Bombay high court banned the destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50m of mangrove. In 2014, the HC forbid reclamation and development of wetlands, based on a PIL filed by environment group Vanashakti.
“To avoid further contempt of court, we need strong prosecution of violators, removal of debris and regeneration of mangroves on priority,” said Abraham.
Under the state mangrove cell, officials from the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit (MMCU) said that they had begun investigating the cases. “Prima facie, as per our records, mangroves were not present at Evershine Nagar and Charkop before 2005, which does not make it a violation. However, we have issued notices and have begun on-ground surveys to rectify it, violators in the INS Hamla case were booked last year, but we will pursue the matter with the district collector to ensure there is better deterrence,” said MM Panditrao, divisional forest officer, MMCU and member secretary of the HC committee.
Chairman of the mangrove committee, Konkan commissioner Jagdish Patil said, “Mangrove destruction cases are being dealt with utmost importance. We have already asked the land revenue department to superimpose the 2005 baseline maps of these mangrove areas and compare them with the current maps. The investigation is underway, but we need time to close such large-scale cases.”He further added that in each case the action taken report would be discussed during the next meeting on March 20.