Mumbai: The controversial killing of tigress Avni, enforcement of plastic ban in the state and a fire in Aarey colony which wiped out a big chunk of the city’s green ‘lungs’ dominated Maharashtra’s environment scene during the year. Avni, the six-year-old tigress and mother of two 11-month-old cubs, who allegedly killed 13 persons since June 2016, was shot in a controversial manner by sharpshooter Asgar Ali, son of famous sharpshooter Nawab Shafat Ali on November 2 this year. The killing of the tigress triggered a full blown war of words between the forest minister in Maharashtra and union minister Maneka Gandhi, both belonging to the BJP.
Gandhi ripped into the minister for using a “trigger happy shooter” to kill Avni. “Despite several requests from many stakeholders, Sudhir Mungantiwar, ordered the killing,” she said, and sought his resignation. An inquiry panel later pointed out that rules were violated and doubts were expressed if the animal was actually killed in self-defence, as claimed by the state government.
On December 4, a massive fire erupted in Mumbais Aarey colony in suburban Goregaon, wiping out about four sq km of trees and other vegetation. Minister for Environment Ramdas Kadam termed the incident ‘suspicious’ and wrote to the state Home secretary to probe the cause of the blaze. The fire triggered an alarm among environmentalists as it threatened to affect tribal residents in the city’s biggest green lung. The fire brigade took nearly 12 hours to douse the flames. Activists who have been labouring to save the Aarey area from encroachments alleged that these forest fires were not accidental. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) too got on the bandwagon and held a protest, with a large number of party workers gathering in the area.
The state government in March announced a ban on manufacture, use, sale, distribution and storage of plastic materials and gave three months to dispose of the existing stocks. In a bid to make the ban more stringent, first time offenders will have to cough up Rs 5,000. For second time offenders, the fine will be Rs 10,000. Those who violate it for the third time will face a fine of Rs 25,000, along with imprisonment of three months. As the year ended, Maharashtra was facing drought due to deficit rainfall this year. The government in October declared 151 talukas in 26 out of the total 36 districts in the state having ‘drought-like’ condition.
These 26 districts include eight each in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, five in North Maharashtra, four in western Maharashtra and Palghar district in the coastal Konkan region. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sought early Central assistance of Rs 7,962.63 crore from the Centre to tackle the drought. The state government claimed 13 crore saplings were planted to increase green cover in the state. It said 20 per cent of the state is under forest cover, much less than the target of 33 per cent set by the national forest policy. The state government also launched the Kanya Van Samruddhi Yojana scheme, under which around three lakh households in Maharashtra where a girl child was born in the last one year will get a gift of ten saplings each from the forest department.
The state government is on a memorial building spree, including that of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian sea, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in suburban Dadar and BJP leader Gopinath Munde in Aurangabad at a collective cost of around Rs 5000 crore. Social activists and environmentalists have termed these as ill-advised projects, which won’t survive for very long even if completed. Environmentalists claim that projects like the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the coastal road project and the Navi Mumbai airport would lead to rising tides and extreme climatic events.