NAVI MUMBAI, April 30, 2020: The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is “examining” the environmentalists’ complaint that the Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA), now under construction, faces the risk of massive bird hits due to nom-stop destruction of wetlands and mangroves in the project’s vicinity.
NGOs NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to take a serious view of the continued burial of wetlands and mangroves in 5-to-20 km of the airport project. Previous letters by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to the Maharashtra government regarding the bird-hit risks in Navi Mumbai airport zone have been grossly ignored as is evident from the continuous destruction of wetlands and mangroves, the green groups said.
“PMO marked our complaint to Arun Mehan, General Manager – Operations, at PMO,” said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation.
“It is really sad that the government has been turning a blind eye to the grave danger despite the BNHS’ warnings,” Kumar said. “We have been shouting from the rooftops against the destruction of wetlands and mangroves under the guise of infrastructure development such as Navi Mumbai SEZ. Though the landfill has been stopped in some places, the destruction is rampant all across Uran,” Kumar said.
The Times of India has reported in February 2018 about the BNHS baseline study warning against the bird-hit possibilities.
“We are not against development, but it has to be balanced with ecology and safety of human beings,” Kumar said. “We wrote separately to the DGCA, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, Union and State Environment Ministers, apart from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray,” he said.
The green group pointed out that wetlands such as Panje and Bhendkhal in Navi Mumbai’s Uran area that are destination to at least five lakh of local and migratory birds are being systematically destroyed for various infrastructure projects like Navi Mumbai SEZ. This could lead to the birds going helter-skelter and finding safe refuge in the high secure airport zone.
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has already written to former as well as current Chief Ministers but there has been no visible action to save the eco-sensitive sites. NMIA is surrounded by several wetlands that are home to birds, some of which are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, per BNHS. A baseline report by the Society, commissioned by CIDCO for the airport also cautioned against the disappearance of the wetlands.
BNHS director Deepak Apte had said in his letters to that the three major roosting sites in the vicinity of NMIA which provide safe refuge to the birds are being filled by NMSEZ. Though birds prefer wetlands, in the absence of the safe places, they could flock to high ground airport zone which could provide them safe refuge, Apte said.
Environmentalists for long have been demanding Panje to be declared a bird sanctuary as it attracts 10,000 to 140,000 birds depending on the season. NatConnect has even requested the Union Environment Ministry to accord the status of a Samsar Wetland to Panje under the global accord to protect wetlands, Kumar pointed out.
“CIDCO is the biggest culprit of environment destruction,” said Nandakumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. “We have already demanded the scrapping of NMSEZ which is anti-environment. The illegal landfill and blocking of free flow of tidal waters has already led to floods in 20 villages,” he said and wondered: “What is the point in having such projects that endanger the environment and human lives?”
The Wetlands Grievance Reddressal Committee has also asked CIDCO and Raigad District Collector to maintain Panje as a wetland, allow free flow of water to the place to be included in the wetland atlas.
“Yet,” lamented Kumar: “CIDCO has included the vast 289 hectare wetland stretching from Panje to Dongari under its Development Plan for Dronagiri marking the area as Sectors 16 to 28.”
“We have also protested against non-inclusion of Panje in the draft CRZ map and called for redrawing the map,” Pawar said. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Manageent Authority (MCZMA) has already declared Panje and Karanja holding ponds as CRZ-1, ruling out any construction.