MUMBAI: NMSEZ has illegally started landfill at Panje wetland through a local contractor while damaging the Pagote and Bhendkhal wetlands, all in Uran region across Mumbai harbor, information obtained via RTI route shows.
The official records obtained from the State Mangrove Cell by NGO Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan clearly show that NMSEZ has also been responsible for chopping mangroves over three acres at Pagote.
The information assumes significance as NMSEZ has always been in a denial mode that it has not done any environmental harm, said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.
The Pratishtan and another environment group NatConnect Foundation have earlier lodged complaints with the Bombay High Court-appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee at whose instance the Raigad district administration conducted an on-the-spot inspection of all the three sites.
In view of these records, the green groups have requested State Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray to quickly declare Panje as a Bird Sanctuary as a World Migratory Birds Day gift to the people.
The inspection reports, as submitted by Raigad collector, confirmed the damage and they even filed police cases (FIRs) against NMSEZ in Pagote and and Bhendkhal cases and a dumper truck driver at Panje.
The reports said inquiries at Panje showed that NMSEZ employed a local contractor to do the landfill. The truck driver did not have the royalty permit, as required to bring the soil, the inspection report said. “This amply proves that the landfill was being carried out illegally,” said Pawar.
NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar said “Our complaints stand vindicated and it is for the mangrove cell, the government and the mangrove committee to take appropriate action.” The Mangrove committee chairman and Konkan Divisional commissioner Annasaheb Misal declared that stern action would be taken against those who destroy mangroves and wetlands.
“We have once again written to the Mangrove Committee with these official records,” Kumar said and pointed out that now no more explanations would have to be taken.
The official report to the Mangrove Cell shows that the Regional Forest Officer said as many as 5,333 mangrove saplings will have to be planted to compensate the damage at Pagote. But since the land is privately owned by NMSEZ, the government agency could not do the plantation, the RFO said.
As regards the complaint against land grab at Belpada wetland, the reports did confirm the unauthorized landfill.
The officials have informed the Mangrove Cell that CIDCO has put up sign boards at Bhendkhal and Belpada warning against unauthorized landfill and dumping of debris.
The district administration said it has to be ascertained from the Environment Department if Belpada and Panje whether the water bodies are notified as wetlands. The Environmental groups, however, argued that this question should nor arise at least as regards Panje since the MCZMA has already submitted an affidavit to Bombay High Court that the area falls under CRZ-1 and the Mangrove Committee itself has asked CIDCO to preserve it as it has all the characteristics of a wetland.
SEAP and NatConnect have reminded Aditya Thackeray that he has tweeted vowing to protect Mumbai’s bio-diversity and requested him to act to save Panje as a Bird Sanctuary and help promote eco-tourism as well.
The environment department has also confirmed that the CIDCO-built sluice gates NMSEZ’s massive compound wall at Panje wetland were without any official permission. Hence the environmentalists have written to the Chief Minister calling for demolishing the illegal structures and facilitating free flow of inter-tidal water to the wetland.