De-notified NMSEZ buries of 165-acre Uran wetland

HC panel directive ignored, officials utterly fail to comply

HC Committee had asked CIDCO, the Raigad collector twice to restore the wetland

NAVI MUMBAI: In a startling development, the de-notified Navi Mumbai SEZ has completed the burial of Bhendkhal wetland in Uran despite the High Court appointed Wetland Committee directive to restore the over 165-acre property, environmentalists have said.

“It is really tragic to see another stretch of biodiversity-rich wetland being lost to the so-called infrastructure development despite all our efforts to save it,” said NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar and requested the State government and the HC Committee to have the property restored.

NMSEZ has been denotified as of February 2019, yet the project continues its activities under the same banner, NatConnect pointed out.

The destruction of the wetland had begun during the Lok Sabha poll period in February 2019. But the High Court panel stopped the debris dumping following a series of complaints from environment focused NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

Subsequently, the HC Committee had asked CIDCO, the Raigad district administration and NMSEZ in December 2019 and January 2020 to restore the wetland that was buried to the extent of over 60%. CIDCO threw its hand up saying the place had been handed over to a large company, naming it, Kumar said.

Following revenue-forest departments combined inspections, the district administration had also filed an FIR against unidentified NMSEZ officials. Obviously, the FIR is gathering dust in Uran police station, NatConnect said.

Bhendkhal - along with Belpada, Panje, the twin wetlands of NRI-TS Chanakya in Navi Mumbai and Bhandup in north-east Mumbai - has also formed part of the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary (TCFS) Satellite Wetland Management Plan published by none other than the State Forest department, Kumar pointed out.

Now, the TCFS is being actively promoted for a Ramsar Wetland status which is part of a global effort to conserve wetlands to which India is a signatory.

The State Mangrove Foundation had also evinced interest to conserve these six wetlands. But CIDCO had dismissed the wetland status of these areas which was very unfortunate, said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratrishtan.

On a series of complaints about the destruction of the environment, Kumar and Pawar have written several letters to the Chief Minister who in turn directed the environment department to look into them.

Responding to NatConnect’s RTI application seeking progress on the CM’s directives, environment director Narendra Toke asked the Raigad District Coastal Management Committee headed by the Collector to inspect and report. “Despite all these, the burial has been completed as if there is no law,” Kumar regretted.

Now, the environmentalists have asked the State government and the High Court committee to take the issue seriously and order the NMSEZ to restore the wetland.