MUMBAI, July 02, 2020: Swiftly responding to eco-warriors’ pleas, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has asked the Environment Department to take up several issues such as declaring wetlands and mangrove zones as heritage property, setting up Green Police, complaints of CIDCO gobbling up wetlands and mangrove zones and accountability for compensatory plantation. “We are pleasantly surprised to see Mr Thackeray’s quick response, sending our pleas to Anil Diggikar, Principal Secretary in the Environment Department,” said B N Kumar, director of NGO NatConnect Foundation which earlier filed applications under RTI on some of these issues. As there was no response from the officials, we knocked the CM’s door,” Kumar said and expressed the hope that the government would act at least now to protect the environment.
The NGO’s suggestion for setting up a dedicated Green Police force has been pending with the government as the then Chief Minister referred it to the Home Department. The special force is required to tackle crimes under the Environment Act as the existing police force is overstretched, Kumar said.
In one of its applications, the environmentalist sought to know if CIDCO has taken the mandatory CRZ permissions before drawing the Dronagiri development plan to ‘literally gobble up’ water bodies, including the Panje wetland, and mangrove zones. “This assumes importance as the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority has itself designated the Panje Wetland under CRZ-1, prohibiting any construction activity within 500 mtrs of high tide line,” said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.
One the one hand the destruction of mangrove zones has been a major cause of concern, while on the other the issue of compensatory plantation on which there has been hardly any monitoring or accountability. The environmentalists sought information on this with no response. “We expect some action, now that the Chief Minister has seen this and responded,” said Kumar.
Pointing out that globally, wetlands are known urban sponges as they act as flood control mechanisms, contribute to bio-diversity, ecological balance and serve as a destination for hundreds of thousands of birds, apart from meeting the basic survival needs of the fishing community.
“Our urban planners and developing agencies, including the government owned CIDCO, are hell bent on destroying them all across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region or MMR,” he said.
Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, said “It is time for the government to quickly decide on our long pending demand to declare The Talawe Wetland as Flamingo Sanctuary and save Panje Wetland in Uran as a Bird Sanctuary and tourism destination to transform the local socio-economic conditions.”
The wetlands of Pagote and Bhendkhal in Uran region destroyed by Navi Mumbai SEZ have to be restored as per the orders of the High Court appointed Mangrove and Wetlands Committees, he said.
The Mangrove Cell too asked for the handing over of five key wetlands in Navi Mumbai – Panje, Belpada, Bhendkhal and Talawe plus TS Chanakya off Palm Beach Marg. The inordinate delay in transferring the wetlands shows the ulterior motives of the government’s own agencies to bury them and sell to real estate developers such as NMSEZ at the cost of environment and people’s lives, Kumar said and drew Thackeray’s attention to the unprecedented floods in Uran during the last monsoon due to the burial of wetlands.
Pawar said it is equally important for the government to protect the mangroves which are the first line of defence for the coastal areas. The mangroves under the control of urban administration and infra projects have to be transferred to the Forest Department as per the Mangrove Committee orders. The government bodies are turning a blind eye to this order, he said and asked the CM to take strict action against the defaulting officers.