The state government-owned CIDCOcontinues tohold possession of a whopping 1,680hectares (ha) of mangroves, equivalent to the size of more than 168 Azad Maidans put together, in Panvel taluka alone.
This is in violation of the Bombay High Court's (HC) four-year-old order to hand the land over to the forest department for conservation, environmentalists said.
Documents obtained by the NatConnect Foundation show that as per the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC) map of 2005, over 2,595ha of mangroves existed in Panvel taluka of which CIDCO handed over 582.935ha to the forest department.
Additionally, the revenue department earmarked 428ha which is also to be given to the forest department. In order to oversee the increasing load the mangrove conservation unit of Navi Mumbai has put up a request with the divisional forest officer (Mumbai) for an additional workforce of nearly 30 persons to oversee the conservation of mangroves.
NatConnect Foundation director BN Kumar said, “We have been complaining to all authorities about the tardy progress in the mangrove transfer process in Raigad district and almost all government agencies are ina denial mode.” This is not a small area and CIDCO's tweet on May 24 stating that it had completed the process of handing over the mangroves in the Navi Mumbai area came like a bombshell, Kumar pointed out.
Citing the forest department documents, Kumar said the Gavan area has the largest amount of mangroves (429ha), of which CIDCO handed over 71ha, followed by Vaghivali with 371.19ha, of which only 71ha has been transferred. CIDCO continues to hold 158ha at Kamothe and 15245 ha at Kharghar. As much as 721.23ha are covered with dense mangroves, 678.03ha are sparse and 219.43ha is of mudflats, according to Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forests. CIDCO has so far handed over 582.935ha and has given a NOC for 382.00ha, Tiwari confirmed to NatConnect.
“This is a very strange situation that CIDCO gives a NOC as if it is doing a favour, whereas it has to just abide by the HC order,” said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Sagar Shakti, the marine division of NGO Vanashakti. The HC had ordered a total freeze on the destruction of mangroves on September 18, 2018, and directed that the sea plants should be transferred to the forest department following a petition by Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG), Pawar pointed out.
CIDCO has been slow in handing over the mangrove land
However, CIDCO has been very slow in handing over the mangrove land which gives ample opportunity to land grabbers to be active, NatConnect said in its fresh e-mail to the HC-appointed mangrove protection and conservation committee. In fact, Vanashakti director Stalin D had moved the HC seeking the transfer of all mangroves to the forest department and pointed out the willful negligence on part of various government agencies.
Kharghar-based activists Nareshchandra Singh and Jyoti Nadkarni who have been relentlessly mobilising public support to save the mangroves and wetlands, regretted that CIDCO has been defying the court order. The delay in protecting the mangroves is causing immense harm to nature by debris and land mafias, Singh said.
Range forest officer SL Manjare of the NaviMumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit has also written to the revenue sub-divisional officer to take action against debris dumping and land grabbing of mangrove zones. The Kharghar police had earlier refused to entertain Manjare's complaint as the forest department has no powers to file cases under the Environment Protection Act.
The revenue department, on its part passed the buck to CIDCO since the mangroves in question are under its jurisdiction. Meanwhile, CIDCO vice chairman and managing director Dr Sanjay Mukherjee said, "As per the MRSAC survey, the total area with mangroves (sparse and dense) in Panvel is only 1365ha. We have handed over 583ha and also given a NOC to 390ha to the forest department in May 2022.
Thus, out of 1,365ha, 973ha have been given to the forest department. Only 392ha has been retained for various infrastructure projects and maintenance of storm water systems. CIDCO has also filed an affidavit in HC in this regard.