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Panje wetland handed over to Reliance, admits CIDCO

MUMBAI: Environmentalists who have been fighting a relentless battle to save the Panje wetland as a bird sanctuary were in for a major shock as Navi Mumbai planner CIDCO admitted that it has ‘transferred’ the eco-sensitive area to Reliance.  

CIDCO representative dropped the bombshell during the meeting of the Konkan Wetland Grievance Reddressal Committee held on March 09, 2020 that Panje wetland has been transferred to Reliance way back in 2004. Businessjournalist.in has a copy of the minutes. The meeting was held under the chairmanship of 2020 Konkan Divisional Commissioner Shivaji Daund.

CIDCO, which has earlier described Panje wetland as a holding pond as part of the flood control mechanism, has shockingly incorporated it under the development plan (DP) for the upcoming Dronagiri node, said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation. “We vehemently opposed this and even requested the Union Environment minister to accord the status of Ramsar Wetland to protect it from destruction,” he said.

Panje also is a destination to thousands exotic of local and migratory birds and helps maintain bio-diversity, apart from being a source of survival for the fishing community, Kumar pointed out.

“CIDCO ulterior motive to dry up the wetland for construction purpose has been clear for long as it illegally built a concrete wall across the backwater stream and erected sluice gates to regulate water flow to the area,” said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

The Wetland Committee at its latest meeting took up complaints from activists Sunil Agrawal and Stalin D about drying up of Panje wetland and asked CIDCO to ensure that the flow of creek water to mangroves at Panje. The committee also asked the Environment department to handle the complaints of mangrove destruction

“But with CIDCO’s disclosure that Panje has been transferred to Reliance, we do not see the corporation working to save it,” said Pawar. “CIDCO itself is a big culprit as can be seen by anyone,” he said and called for scrapping the anti-environment project, NMSEZ. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has already told the High Court that Panje falls under CRZ-1, Pawar said.

NMSEZ is a private public partnership company with Reliance group Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Jaicorp, SKILL Infrastructure and CIDCO as partners. CIDCO, which has 26% stake in the project, has allotted wetlands and mangrove areas such as Pagote, Bhendkhal and Panje to NMSEZ.

According to a stock market filing by Reliance in May last year, the company signed an MoU with NMSEZ to develop 4,000 acres for an integrated industrial township.

The massive landfill has resulted in blockage of free flaow of water to wetlands and mangroves which in turn led to floods in 20 villages in Uran as admitted by the Raigad district administration. “We cannot afford to endanger human lives in the name of development which is nothing but destruction,” said Kumar.

At the instance of NatConnect and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan and series of site inspections, Bombay High Court appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation committee halted the landfill at Pagote and Bhendkhal. Recently, the revenue officials have filed FIRs against unidentified NMSEZ officials for the environment destruction at these two places. In a third FIR, the revenue department has registered a case against a dumper truck driver for carrying debris to Panje.