HC panel rejects govt agency stand on Panje wetland

Committee decides to await expert opinion to conserve biodiversity

Bombay High Court-appointed Wetlands Committee has refused to accept CIDCO’s contention that the inter-tidal zone is not a wetland.

NAVI MUMBAI: In a major relief for the environmentalists fighting to save the 289-hectare Panje wetland and biodiversity at Uran across Mumbai Harbour, the High Court-appointed Wetlands Committee has refused to accept CIDCO’s contention that the inter-tidal zone is not a wetland.

As regards the NRI and TS Chanakya wetlands at Nerul, the committee referred the issue of violations and choking the inter-tidal water flow to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA).

At the Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, CIDCO maintained that Panje is not a wetland and suggested to close complaints about landfill and violations, but panel member Stalin D strongly objected and said the city planner cannot sit on judgement on complaints against it.

“There is an expert opinion from then Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) stating that Panje falls under CRZ 1 and that it has to be conserved,” Stalin said. There also ample evidence that Panje is a wetland and the property must be protected, he said and offered to present all evidence.

The Wetlands committee then decided not to close the series of complaints pending on violations at Panje and await expert opinion.

Welcoming the “positive development,” NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar who has been raising a series of complaints with the government and the mangroves and wetlands committees, said Panje has all the characteristics of a wetland as defined by the Ramsar Convention. It is also an inter-tidal zone and CIDCO cannot play with it, he said.

NatConnect also recalled that the environment sub-committee report on the status of Panje is still awaited for over a year. Then Mangrove and Wetlands committees head Annasaheb Misal called for the report in December 2020.

Moreover, NatConnect also demanded the protection of the wetlands in view of the State Environment Minister’s directive to spare salt pans from construction and the Chief Minister took note of it.

Nandakumar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, who received death threats by local goons for raising the issue of reopening the choked tidal water inlets with the NGT, said the BNHS and several experts are keen to conserve Panje and it is only CIDCO and other vested interests are hell-bent on destroying it to create concrete jungle.

The MCZMA has said in its affidavit Bombay High Court that Panje is CRZ 1 area, while the Environment Minister had stalled fresh constructions there. The information obtained under the Right to Information Act showed that construction of a wall and sluice gates at Panje as well as the compound wall erected by NMSEZ have no CRZ clearances, Pawar and Kumar said.

Konkan Divisional Commissioner Vilas Patil – who is the defacto head of both the High Court appointed Committees - also took a strong objection to the procrastination by the respective district committees in resolving complaints of environmental violations and directed them to file their reports.

NatConnect has earlier pointed out to the earlier Commissioners as well about the delay in the district collectors and CIDCO presenting their reports. The Committees’ agendas keep saying that “report awaited” even on three-year-old complaints, Kumar said mentioning his own issue raised about dumping of construction debris on mangroves near Vashi village along the Sion-Panvel highway.