Thursday, February 02, 2023
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Panje wetland chokes again, all 5 water inlets shut

Greens blame vested interests as authorities neglect

NatConnect Foundation

NAVI MUMBAI: Environmentalists are upset that the Panje wetland is under attack once again with vested interests totally blocking tidal water inlets.

Coming as it does before the much-delayed inspection of the area by a subcommittee appointed at the behest of the Mangrove Committee, the blocking of all inlets has come a severe shocker, said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

Four entry points for the tidal water have been blocked earlier and now the last ad fifth is also packed with cement in an apparent attempt to render the area dry and showcase that it is not a wetland, Pawar said.

What is even more shocking is, said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation, that the district administration and CIDCO have failed to protect Panje so far despite the orders from the High Court appointed Mangrove Committee and the State Environment Minister. Vested interests rule the roost, and not the authorities, Kumar lamented.

He pointed out that the environmentalists request to declare Panje as a bird sanctuary is pending with the Environment Department as per the Chief Minister’s directive.

CIDCO on its part has not only leased out most of the 289-hectare wetland to Navi Mumbai SEZ but earmarked the stretch as sectors 16 to 28 under the Dronagiri Development Plan. The DP, which encompasses many mangrove zones and wetlands, does not have the approval of the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority’s stamp of approval, as was revealed to NatConnect in an official response to an RTI application.

Environment groups, meanwhile, protested against  the inordinate delay in setting a subcommittee to go inspect the wetlands as per the orders of the High Court appointed Konkan Wetlands Grievance Reddressal Committee.

The order to form the inspection committee came after the Collector declared that there are no wetlands in Uran.

Raigad collector has now formed the committee, more than 15 days after the HC panel head Annsaheb Misal called for the inspection following a series of complaints from environmentalists about the destruction of wetlands in Uran.

In fact, the inspection committee ought to have submitted its reports by now as the Commissioner set a deadline of 15 days for this, said Kumar.

This is nothing but ‘environment redtapism’ and it is a serious issue, Kumar said and explained that the Collector herself said she did not receive the notice about forming the committee though the media has reported the development over a fortnight ago.

This period would have given further leeway to land grabbers and this is how wetlands keep disappearing, said Nandkumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

The latest order from the Collectors is addressed to Forest and Environment Departments, CIDCO and the police apart from Stalin D of Vanashakti NGO. The government departments are asked to nominate their representatives to be part of the subcommittee. This obviously is a time-consuming process, Kumar said.

All project proponents, without exception, have been destroying wetlands and a massive 500-acre free flowing creek at Dastan Phata has been buried by JNPT within less than six months, Pawar said.

Hundreds of thousands of migratory and local birds which used to make the wetlands their destination are now forced to fly helter-skelter in search of food and a place for roosting, he pointed.

It is not about mere beauty, it is about biodiversity as wetlands are supposed to be urban sponges absorbing tidal and flood waters, Kumar argued.