NAVI MUMBAI: Environmentalists have requested Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to ensure the “last mile smile” and remove the hurdles posed by city planner CIDCO in saving Panje wetland in Uran across Mumbai harbour as a conservation project.
The Maharashtra Mangrove Cell, the High Court-appointed Mangrove and Wetlands Committee, State Wildlife Board and 130-year-old nature research body BNHS are all keen to protect take up Panje as a conservation project but only CIDCO is adamant to bury the sprawling wetland for creating concrete jungle, NGO NatConnet Foundation said.
In his World Biodiversity Day address, Thackeray has called for drawing a line between development projects and biodiversity conservation and preserving nature to avert pandemics such as COVID-19.
Appreciating this, B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation, and pointed out that “now it is the question of the last mile smile that the CM has to ensure.” This should not be difficult at all for Thackeray since CIDCO is also a government agency and the Chief Minister is an environment lover, Kumar said and called for declaring Panje as a conservation project as World Environment Day gift to the state.
In this connection, Kumar recalled that the forest department prevailed upon the government not to allow CIDCO to further plunder Parsik Hills in Navi Mumbai in the name of quarrying.
Mangrove Cell chief Virendra Tiwari said the organization is keen to conserve Panje, along with wetlands at Belpada, Bhendkhal, TSC, NRI Seawoods and Bhandup as part of the extended Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary as proposed by BNHS. But CIDCO was not keen to handover the water bodies to Mangrove Cell claiming that these are not wetlands. Tiwari has once again written to BNHS to clarify the status of the wetlands.
Meanwhile, BNHS director Dr Bivash Pandav has said that Panje has to be conserved “at any cost”. “We have to convince the planners to spare this part of the area as it supports biodiversity,” Dr Pandav said.
The State Wildlife Board has on December 4, 2015 itself cleared a BNHS proposal to protect Panje as a bird sanctuary and then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made a public announcement of this, Kumar pointed out. NatConnect has brought this to the notice of Thackeray who in turn asked the Environment department to take this forward.
Panje attracts close to 200,000 migratory birds which arrive via the Central Asian Flyway and the avian species have of late been deserting the wetland which has been rendered dry apparently at the behest of vested interests, said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.
Apart from the birds, “Panje also supported the local economy as the fishing community depends on the wetland but CIDCO’s mindless action in planning concrete jungle there has denied the constitutional rights of the local people,” Pawar said.
What is even more tragic is that CIDCO has not cared to implement even NGT ruling to clear the tidal water choke points at Panje that blocked free flow of tides and resulted in most of the area drying up, Pawar said. CIDCO has not bothered to care for the environment department director’s order in this regard.
CIDCO has itself been saying at various courts that Panje wetland is a holding pond as part of the flood control mechanism for upcoming Dronagiri, yet it has leased out the biodiversity area to Navi Mumbai SEZ of which the planner is a 26% partner, Pawar said asked: “If this is not a mindless act, what else is?
The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has declared at Bombay High Court that Panje holding pond is a CRZ-1 property and as such there can be no construction on the wetland.
Pawar too, therefore, appealed to Thackeray to overrule CIDCO and save Panje wetland as a conservation project and hand it over to the Mangrove Cell.