CM steps in to save Panje wetland as greens scream against fresh destruction

NAVI MUMBAI, May 05, 2020: Swiftly responding to a series of complaints from environmentalists against fresh bids to grab the disputed Panje wetland in Uran across Mumbai harbour, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has asked the Environment Secretary to examine the issues.

Despite the Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray’s orders not to undertake any construction at Panje, Navi Mumbai SEZ has built security cabins. At the same time, some miscreants have built a bund blocking the free flow of tidal water to the wetland, with a bid to render it dry for obvious land grab, said the environmental groups Shri Ekvira Aai Pratrishtan and NatConnect Foundation in their complaint to the Chief Minister and the Environment Minister.

“The unscrupulous elements are obviously taking advantage of the absence of any surveillance as the environment and district officials are tied up with corona care elsewhere in the region,” said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation.

“We are happy that the Chief Minister managed to find time despite his busy schedule attending to the epidemic and responded to our e-mails almost instantaneously, and marked them to Principal Secretary –Environment, Anil Diggikar” Kumar said.

Following a series of complaints against destruction of Uran wetlands, Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray has on March 3 ordered to stop all construction at Panje. NMSEZ earlier built a massive compound wall around the wetland and CIDCO put up sluice gates and a huge wall stopping free flow of tidal water which is essential for the area.

Kumar pointed out that there have been all all-out efforts to grab this wet land which must be checked at any cost. Panje used to be destination for 10,000 to 1,50,000 birds not very long ago and the area has turned into a massive dry patch with the blocking of tidal water flow by sluice gates erected by CIDCO. Today, not a single flamingo few into Panje, he said  and pointed out that the environmentalists have also cautioned the government that the systematic destruction of wetlands such as Panje could lead to bird hits to flights in and out of the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport. “We have been informed that the Prime Minister’s Office has taken up our complaint in this regard,” Kumar said.

The Bombay High Court appointed wetlands and mangrove committees have noted that Panje has all characteristics of a wetland and asked CIDCO to ensure that the eco-sensitive zone is maintained, free of development. Yet, CIDCO has recently covered Panje-Dongari stretch as sectors 16-28 under its development plan for upcoming Dronagiri node, he said. “We are not against any development that can bring in progress,” he said and asked: “should it happen at the cost of human lives and environment destruction?”

“The new illegal construction is a clear attempt by Navi Mumbai SEZ to go ahead with its plan to develop an integrated industrial township,” said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. The ownership of Panje is with the state government and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has submitted to Bombay High Court that wetland falls under CRZ 1 due to the presence of mangroves. Yet NMSEZ is in a mighty hurry to grab the area, Pawar said.

BNHS which conducted detailed studies of the area repeatedly warned that the destruction of wetlands in Uran could pose a serious bird hit dangers to the NMIA flights endangering human lives. The displaced birds could flock the airport area for roosting.

Moreover, indiscriminate burial of wetlands will lead to floods in the region endangering the lives of the people. In fact, Uran’s 20 villages have experienced floods for the first time during the last monsoon. This is evident from the district administration’s response to applications under the RTI Act.

The restoration of the water body will also lead to the return fish and will help the local community, which has been denied our constitutional right to practice their trade as the major projects such as JNPT, ONGC, NMSEZ have all taken over the fishing zones, said Tukaram Koli of Paramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti.

The groups have requested Aditya Thackeray, who also holds the Tourism portfolio, to develop Panje as bird tourism spot. This will lead to socio-economic development of the backward area, while the fishing community could depend on fishing once again, Pawar said.