Once a mangrove graveyard, the site is now flourishing back with lush green mangroves, says B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation
MUMBAI: The world’s largest English daily The Times of India takes note of it. The newspaper not only prominently carries the story with a photograph, but writes a brief, punchy editorial.
Yes, environmentalists have won a prolonged battle to revive a patch of over 5,000 mangroves which have been perished due to blocking of tidal water flow at Uran across Mumbai harbour. (For the uninitiated, Uran the ecologically fragile land is now bustling with infrastructure development projects, threatening the environment). The mangroves have been impacted by the expansion of the National Highway number -348 as the road construction waste and debris has been dumped on the water flow on one side and the sea plants on the other.
The site, (near Punjab CFS) between near India’s largest container port JNPT, which presented a mangrove graveyard not very long ago, is now flourishing back with lush green mangroves, says B N Kumar, director of not-for-profit NatConnect Foundation which has spearheaded the campaign to save the vital plants.
The Times of India wrote: The regeneration of a mangrove forest is the best news in an age that’s confronted with extreme climatic events. Mangroves are our best safeguard against flooding. However, over the years, mangrove forests in and around urban areas have been destroyed to make way for construction. Luckily, there is a pushback from concerned citizens and greens and in a few cases like this, a major disaster is averted.
Kumar narrates that the battle to save the mangrove began in April 2018 with local fishing community noticing the blocking of tidal water flow due to the work by the Government-owned National Highway Authority of India or NHAI. Environmental groups subsequently complained to the Bombay High Court-appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee which called for site inspection which was done in December 2018, Kumar says.
The Mangrove Committee called for restoring the water flow and removing the choke point, but the authorities did not heed.
In January 2019, NatConnect along with fellow non-government organisation Shree Ekvira Aai Partisthan and the traditional fishing community forum Paramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti took a joint delegation to then Chairman of the Mangrove Committee Jagdish Patil who assured action. Patil retired since and, subsequently, two Chairmen came in. Yet, no action taken to save the mangroves. Come June, the monsoon havoc led to flooding of the mangrove zone. The water was not allowed to flow back with the low tide and the few surviving mangroves rotted.
The mangroves are not ordinary bushes and they protect the huge container stations around the area from flooding due to high tides, apart from serving the needs of the fishing community, Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, says.
“That was the time we lost all hopes,” recalls Kumar. “In earlier case of massive landfill on wetland at another place, Dastan Phata, we could not save the place in the face of the mighty JNPT which was hell-bent on reclaiming the area amid stiff opposition from environment groups,” he says. Though the landfill stopped for a while on to the orders from the Mangrove Committee, but the battle was lost.
Meanwhile the environmental groups mounted pressure by drawing the attention of then Ports Minister Nitin Gadkari and somehow wiser counsel prevailed on the NHAI or its contractors who cleared a small part of the blockage by debris. Water started flowing back and forth, Mangroves begin to sprout on their own, says Pawar. One solitary fisherman could catch two baskets full of crabs after a long time when the activists visited the site in December 2019 along with media professional Anil Singh.
Tidal water subsequently forced its way in and out and the mangroves have started growing again, thus presenting a good case study material for the powers that be – the sea plants can grown on their own and flourish without human intervention, explains Kumar.
The battle is half won as the culprits who were responsible for the killing of the mangroves are yet to be identified and punished. The land is under the state-owned planning authority CIDCO (City and Industrial development Corporation) and its environment officer has been only promising action, Pawar says.
The NHAI, on its part, has been on a denial mode saying it has not destroyed any mangroves. This attitude is nothing new here as almost all government agencies and private project companies are habituated to do so.
“This is just one site. There are many other wetlands and mangroves which have been affected due to the landfill by JNPT itself and a special economic zone project. This destruction impacts our lives and livelihoods,” says Tukaram Koli of the fishermen’s forum.
The villages in Uran have not had any history of floods over the past two decades which is shown in a written note from the district authorities in response to a query under the Right to Information Act or RTI. But, thanks to the landfill at several places, the tidal water flow has been blocked. As the age-old proverb goes, water found its own course and began to inundate the low-lying villages and even rice farms, narrates another fishing community forum activist Dilip Pandurang Koli.
Hence, collective campaign #SaveMumbiodiversity is being pursued vigorously and we hope to achieve some results very soon, says Kumar. “We have won a small but significant battle, but the war is on,” he chuckles.
Pawar on his part has moved the Bombay High Court as well as the National Green Tribunal taking up the Environment protection cause.
Watch this space.