Thursday, February 02, 2023
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Quit Panje Wetland, Greens tell Ambani-promoted NMSEZ

NGT, National Atlas confirm wetland status

NatConnect Foundation

Say Govt must act as wetland status confirmed by on NGT ruling, Wetland Atlas

NAVI MUMBAI, Feb 25 (The CONNECT) - Environmentalists have launched ‘Quit Panje’ movement directing against NMSEZ which they said has no business to occupy the place in the light of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) firmly affirming the status of Panje Wetland in Uran and the National Wetland Decadal Change Atlas inventorising the intertidal water zone with mangroves and mudflats.

"Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India to British rulers call 80 years ago, we launched this campaign," said environment-flocused NGOs NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan

The Western Zonal Bench of NGT ruled that a joint committee of nominees of National Wetland Committee, State Wetland Authority, Maharashtra, MCZMA and the District Collector, Raigad needs to take all necessary steps for protection, conservation and management of Panje wetland.

The NGT’s Western Zonal Bench has on Wednesday dismissed petitions by CIDCO and NMSEZ to review the Tribunal’s ruling of April 2021 directing the restoration of tidal water flow to Panje wetland as per the State Environment Director’s order of November 2020. NGT in its orders has repeatedly referred to the Panje area as a wetland.

NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar said in his letter to the CM that NMSEZ has already been de-notified long ago in February 2019 as per information obtained from the Union Commerce Ministry that monitors SEZs. This is another reason for giving marching orders to NMSEZ, he said.

NMSEZ is promoted Mukesh Ambani and others with Maharashtra Government’s city planner CIDCO holding 26% stake in the PPP. The private security at NMSEZ, which says they have been retained by Reliance, have been blocking the entry of BNHS researchers assigned by CIDCO itself, media personnel, wildlife photographers, apart from the local fishing community. Of late, NMSEZ has put up a sign warning trespassers.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has asked the Forest and Environment Departments to look into the NGT ruling following an email by NatConnect Foundation asking the government to notify the 289-hectare Panje inter-tidal zone as a wetland.

“The Chief Minister’s Office responded to us in 33 minutes and specifically sent the mail to the Forest Secretary B Venugopal Reddy and Environment Principal Secretary Manisha Mhaiskar Patankar asking them to take the issue forward,”

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Control (MOEFCC) has already asked the Maharashtra Wetland Authority for the latter’s comments on priority one NatConnect's request seeking action to protect Panje wetland.

It is more than clear that the wetland is a CRZ 1 area and that CIDCO has wrongly allotted Panje wetland to NMSEZ and even marked the 289 hectares as Sector 16 to 28 of the Dronagiri Development Plan, Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishthan, said.

Environment Director Narendra Toke, whose order the NGT virtually upheld, had also asked the NMSEZ to remove the security cabins, apart from calling for restoration of water flow to the wetland, he said.

CIDCO and NMSEZ in their almost identical review petitions admitted that the flap gates across the creek at Panje have been built to prevent the creek water from entering the wetland, Pawar said.

The storm water drain-pipes have been kept plugged during the non-monsoon period for the last 10-12 years, said the two organisations.

The NGT said in identical, but separate orders, that what is described as ponds with flap gates for preventing flooding are obstructing the free flow of water to the Panje wetland which is “factually in existence”, even if not notified.

The Tribunal pointed out that the Supreme Court has ruled that the principles of Wetland Rules are applicable not only to the notified wetlands but to all the wetlands inventorized in the Wetland Atlas. As per the NGT’s own ruling in a Jammu and Kashmir case, all the States and UTs were required to map “all available wetlands and file a report with the National Wetland Committee for preparing exhaustive inventory”.

As regards Panje, the Bench also quoted two reports by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) describing the wetland as a safe foraging and roosting area for congregating birds.

On the CIDCO’s argument that the area needs desilting, the Bench said in the garb of de-silting, mangrove removal is not permissible in view of CRZ Notification 2019.

The joint Committee National Wetland Committee, State Wetland Authority, Maharashtra, MCZMA and the District Collector, Raigad will be free to permit any protective measures during monsoon to prevent flooding. There is no bar to de-silting, subject to necessary approvals of the statutory authorities without adversely affecting the mangroves and the tidal flow, the NGT order said.

The Raigad district administration has been saying that Panje is not a notified wetland. But now, the NGT asked for its order to be emailed to the district collector for compliance, apart from the National Wetland Committee, State Wetland Authority and Maharashtra CZMA.

NatConnect said it has sent the NGT orders to Raigad Collector Dr Mahendra Kalyankar, sub-divisional officer Rahul Mundake and Uran Tahsildar Bhausaheb Andhare.