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Relentless Landfill on mangroves - it's serious

JNPT SEZ has no Coastal Zone clearance: RTI response

State environment dept also asks Raigad collector to check mangrove destruction under JNPT

“As per records the MCZMA, the information (that) pertains to CRZ clearance to JNPT SEZ for implementing the SEZ project in Uran taluka of Raigad district is not available,” the communique from the Environment Department said in response to environment NGO NatConnect Foundation’s RTI application.

MUMBAI, Feb 14 (The CONNECT) : The ambitious port-based SEZ being developed by JNPT has no Coastal Regulatory Zone clearance, the State Government response to an RTI application shows.

“As per records the MCZMA, the information (that) pertains to CRZ clearance to JNPT SEZ for implementing the SEZ project in Uran taluka of Raigad district is not available,” the communique from the Environment Department said in response to environment NGO NatConnect Foundation’s RTI application.

“We sought the information on CRZ clearance as we have been noticing widespread destruction of mangroves due to the landfill for the JNPT SEZ,” said B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation. The activist also sent photographs showing landfill on mangrove forests.

JNPT website itself says there are 900 hectares of mangroves (numbering 900,000 sea plants) and their transfer to the state forest department is still pending despite the government orders to do so, he said. These mangroves have to be protected at any cost to save the coast and the JNPT project itself, apart from the scores of villages, from tidal water attacks and the plants serve as the first line of defence, Kumar said and stressed that "we are not against development." But it has to be balanced with environment protection, he said.

Kumar pointed out that the original environmental clearance given to JNPT SEZ expired in December 2019 and the renewal was granted at the 195th meeting of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). He expressed surprise that the SEIAA website, as of February 12, 2021, does not have minutes of this particular meeting supposed to have taken place on March 14, 2020 though it posted the preceding and succeeding meetings. “We filed an RTI application seeking minutes of the SEIAA 195th meeting,” the activist said.

In a separate response to NatConnect’s another RTI application, the government said it asked the Raigad District Collector to probe into the allegation of burial of mangroves under JNPT SEZ. In fact, state Environment Director Narendra Toke himself asked the Collector to check violation of the CRZ notifications.

NatConnect, and other groups such as Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan and traditional fishing community forum Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti also complained to the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray against the mangroves and wetland destruction under JNPT. They apprehended that the port officials could be filing false compliance reports. The CM asked the Environment Department to check these. NatConnect followed up with an RTI application. “Now, we are informed that the Environment department asked the Raigad Collector to check these too,” Kumar said.

The groups have also approached the High Court appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee to order immediate halt to the burial of mangroves under JNPT SEZ and bringing the culprits to book.

In a related development the Environment Department informed Nandakumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan that the MCZMA has not given any clearance for road development on mangroves at Ulwe and landfill at Sawarkhar. Pawar said JNPT has been doing this landfill and the government asked the Collector to check these violations.

The EC given for expansion of JNPT container terminal clearly stipulates that the project proponent must adhere to all court orders and CRZ rules and clearly to stay 50 metres away from mangroves. But in all the cases at Dhutum and Ulwe, tonnes and tonnes of earth has been dumped straight on mangroves as if the law protecting the sea plants does not exist, the activists said.

Meanwhile, the traditional fishing community forum offered to take the government inspection teams to show the “glaring violations” of earlier ECs granted to JNPT including the shutting of the fishing routes and burials of mangroves. “We can show the extent of destruction by guiding the team by land and sea routes which will amply prove our charges,” said Dilip Koli of the Kruti Samiti.

The High Court appointed panel has earlier imposed a penalty of Rs one lakh on JNPT for destroying 4,500 mangroves during construction of the port’s fourth container terminal. The forest department filed a case in a Panvel court.

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