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Keep JNPT SEZ plan on hold, greens plea to CM citing mangrove burial

Process of calling for public objections is farce, activists say


NatConnect Foundation

Since the Draft Development Proposal for JNPT SEZ area is underway as per the laid down procedure of regulatory authority (Urban Development department of GoM), NatConnect requested Thackeray to call for a high-level inquiry into the landfills on mangroves and take action against the guilty.

MUMBAI: Alleging that the so-called logistics ‘game changer’ JNPT SEZ is playing with the environment, environmentalists have appealed to the Maharashtra Government to keep the project’s Draft Development Proposal for JNPT SEZ on hold as the process of inviting public objections was a farce and not transparent.

Environment groups have questioned the JNPT statement that only one suggestion was received. The process was opaque as it was not well publicised, they said and sent photographic evidence of the mangrove and wetland destruction even before the draft development plan was approved.

“We are not opposed to any infrastructure development, but it should not play with the environment which will prove to be detrimental for all,” said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation

JNPT claimed yesterday that the draft development proposal for JNPT SEZ was put up for objections and suggestions from the public during the period of December 3, 2020 to January 1, 2021.

The port issued a Press Release on this “completion of process” and not on inviting public objections and suggestions, that too during the COVID period, they pointed out in a mail to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Last year, JNPT had pasted notices in villages around when they invited objections to the Container Terminal IV, the activists recalled and said objections were filed accordingly. But this process was not followed in the case of the SEZ, Kumar said.

As seen on JNPT website as of today, the Environmental Clearance that JNPT SEZ received does not mention the CRZ clearance. The environmental clearance, signed by Medha Gadgil, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment department & MS, SEIAA Dated: 5th December, 2014 was to be valid for five years. JNPT does not show any new EC.

“We have been complaining to the government about the burial of wetlands and mangroves under the JNPT SEZ much before this latest process by the port authorities,” he said. Then CM Devendra Fadnavis had, in fact, referred the complaint to the Environment and Transport and Ports department secretaries way back in November 2018, Kumar said.

But no action seems to have been taken after that. On the contrary, 500 acres of Dastan Phata wetland has been buried and a Shiv Smarak was built on the wetland without district administration permissions, the activist said.

Since the Draft Development Proposal for JNPT SEZ area is underway as per the laid down procedure of regulatory authority (Urban Development department of GoM), NatConnect requested Thackeray to call for a high-level inquiry into the landfills on mangroves and take action against the guilty.

Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, recalled that the record of JNPT in terms of environment care is not trustworthy despite all their tall claims of meeting with the compliances. JNPT has been filed Rs one lakh for killing 4,500 mangroves in the work on the fourth container terminal and the Forest Department filed a case in a Panvel court.

The environmentalists have also written to the CM about JNPT filing false compliance reports as the instructions given to the port authorities many years ago to various authorities ago were yet to be implemented. Thackeray asked the Environment department to look into these.

NatConnect has already requested the State government to ensure that JNPT transfers the 900,000 mangroves under its jurisdiction to the Forest Department. Moreover, the Bombay High Court has, in its ruling on a petition filed by NGO Vanashakti, ordered CIDCO, JNPT and others to handover the mangroves in their areas to the Forest Department, Pawar said.

JNPT and other projects are not supposed to interfere with the fishing boat movements and their route. Yet, the movements of the boats have been blocked, said Dilip Koli, activist of traditional fishing community forum Paramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti. “The burial of wetlands has further depleted the fishing community’s source of survival,” Koli said.

The activists have also brought to the government’s notice the fact that burial of wetlands has been flooding paddy fields and homes in several villages. “We, therefore, requested the government to order a high-level inquiry and spot inspection involving the local fishing community and environment lovers to ascertain facts,” Kumar added.