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Victory for Panje Wetland, NGT upholds CRZ 1 status

Greens say environment wins, ask State to conserve the wetland

NatConnect Foundation

NGT today upheld that Panje wetland falls under CRZ 1 and dismissed the contentions by CIDCO and NMSEZ against the status of the area.

PUNE, Feb 23 (The CONNECT) - In a big victory for environmentalists fighting to save Panje Wetland in Uran across Mumbai Harbour, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) today upheld that the area falls under CRZ 1 and dismissed the contentions by CIDCO and NMSEZ against the status of the area.

The Western Zonal Bench of NGT headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel dismissed review petitions filed by CIDCO and NMSEZ against the Tribunal’s ruling of April 15, 2021 which directed the opening of the inter-tidal water inlets to the wetland that were blocked in 2020. The other members of the Tribunal are Justice Brijesh Sethi and expert members Dr Nagin Nanda, Dr A Senthil Vel, Dr Vijay Kulkarni and Dr Afroz Ahmad.

The Tribunal had in fact asked CIDCO and the Raigad district collector to comply with the Environment Director’s order of November 11, 2020 to clear the choke points.

CIDCO and NMSEZ contended that the 289-hectare Panje area was agricultural land and that it was a developable land parcel.

CIDCO said the area was created as a holding pond to check floods and not to receive the sea water. It also argued against the opening of the flap gates built under a Dutch system to regulate storm water. Opening of the gates would flood the villages around, it said. It also argued that the mere presence of mangroves does not qualify Panje to be designated as a wetland.

The NGT Bench which took up the review petitions on Wednesday rejected all contentions and confirmed the status of CRZ 1 and that it has to be protected. It also said no one should interfere with the free flow of tidal water, according to advocate Meenaz Kakalia.

Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) and NatConnect Foundation hailed the ruling as a big victory for the environment cause and requested the state government to immediately notify Panje wetland as a conservation area. The State Mangrove Cell has already expressed interest in maintaining the wetland, along with five other wetlands of Belpada, Bhendkhal, NRI and TS Chanakya and Bhandup.

As per  BNHS studies it is important to save these wetlands in the absence of which thousands of migratory birds could create chaos in the sky searching for roosting and nesting. This in turn could pose bird hi threats to flights at the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport, NatConnect pointed out to the Centre and well as State Governments.

Moreover, the latest National Wetland Decadal Change Atlas prepared by the Space Application Centre (SAC) and ratified by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Control (MOEFCC) clearly demarcates Panje as wetland with inter-tidal water, mangroves and mudflats, NatConnect director B N Kumar pointed out.

NatConnect also wrote to the Chief Minister pointing out that NMSEZ has been de-notified as of February 2019 and that it has no business occupying Panje area which was illegally allotted to it. The CM has already asked the environment department to look into this.

SEAP had moved the NGT in April last year praying for getting the water choke points at Panje cleared as per the Environment Director’s order of November 11, 2020 which was not complied with.

Environment Director Narendra Toke had on complaints from NatConnect Foundation and SEAP against blocking of the five water drain pipes at Panje ordered for reopening the tidal water flow. Toke said in his order that Panje wetland falls under CRZ 1 and that the tidal water flow should not be stopped. He also called upon NMSEZ to demolish its security cabins in the area.

CIDCO filed an additional affidavit at NGT claiming that some villages such as Funde, Dongari and Bokadvira and the NMSEZ area of Panje were flooded due to the opening of the water inlets and the sluice gates across the adjoining creek.

But the NGT did not buy any of these arguments and reaffirmed the CRZ 1 status of Panje wetland.

Pawar said he will file a caveat at the Supreme Court pleading for giving him notice in case CIDCO move the top court.