Vasai coastline reclaimed, encroached, illegally

Tehsildar turns blind eye towards court orders

Palghar : The coastline of Vasai taluka which was once a pride is now a talking point as most of the government properties have either been reclaimed or encroached illegally under the very nose of government officials. Illegal resorts and makeshift shacks have made their presence prominent across the beach destinations like Kalamb, Rajouri, Arnala and Bhuigaon. The Tehsil office, which is suppose to guard these properties, has been clearly unsuccessful in doing so with government properties, along the beaches and highways being blatantly occupied by the land mafia.

Not taking these encroachments and reclamations lightly NGOs like ‘Vanashakti’ from Mumbai and ‘Harit Naisargik Vaibhav Bachao Abhiyaan’ with others came together and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on April 29, 2013 in Mumbai High Court to save the killing of mangroves along the shorelines of Vasai and Mumbai. Taking into consideration seriousness of the issue the court took immediate cognizance and directed the State government on September 16, 2013 to clear its stand on implementation of wetland rules 2010.

Acting on this order, the Town Planning department, Konkan Division, on December 18, 2013 issued an order under section 154(1) of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act (MRTP) 1966 to all the Municipal Corporations and Zilla Parishads to protect the wetlands by not permitting any reclamation and construction.

Accordingly, N Vasudevan, Chief Conservator of Forests Mangrove Cell, Mumbai along with other officers in-charge of forest cell and mangrove cell visited wetlands near Dahisar link road bus stand, village Bhuigaon, Ghodban-dar–Thane road, Owala village, Dive Anjur on Thane-Bhiwandi road, Dive village, Vikhroli–Mulund road, and Targhar village in Uran.

This team visited the Bhuigaon site in Vasai on March 21, 2014 and reported its observations. It mentioned that the nullah bed which carries the tidal flow and keeps mangroves alive was blocked rendering the nullah bed completely barren with mangroves either dead or hacked. It also mentioned the presence of two illegal brick walls of around 500 ft and 300 ft long of which the later could have been responsible towards cutting the tidal flow. The NGOs have decided to file another PIL in the Mumbai High Court next week highlighting the contempt of court as no action has been taken on construction near the beach which thwarts all the CRZ norms.

When FPJ visited the concerned location close to Bhuigaon beach (which is not even more than 200 meters from the actual beach), it was observed that reclamation is still being done on a large scale with traces of hacked mangroves found everywhere. It was clearly visible that an attempt was made by the land mafia to portray the location as a farm house with plantation of various trees like coconut and chickoo trees.

Locals alleged that since the tidal flow was blocked the mangroves didn’t get any saltwater on which they survive and hence were exposed to monsoon water which makes their survival difficult.

Vasai tehsildar Sunil Koli didn’t respond to the calls and text messages when FPJ tried to seek their views on this issue. However the Palghar Collector Abhijeet Bangar did revert via a text message stating that necessary action would be taken.

Francis D’souza, president of Harit Naisargik Vaibhav Bachao Abhiyaan, said, “It is surprising that court orders are not being followed and the encroachment still continues to grow stronger and stronger. We have decided to file another PIL highlighting the contempt of court and will fight till the Vasai west coast known for its greenery and farming is free from the clutches of encroachers.”

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Observations of mangrove cell

This site consists of a nullah bed and flanked on both sides by private lands as per Google map 4. The nullah had a connection to the sea and displays clear evidence of regular tidal inundation and significant mangrove growth in the past. The nullah bed is now rendered practically barren by blocking the tidal inflow and hacking well grown mangroves. In the absence of regular tidal water flow, the place has become highly saline with salt crystals turning the area sparkling white. Stumps of mangrove trees could be seen all over the place. As mentioned in the petition, a brick wall of approximately 500 ft long was seen bordering the plot but its effect on blocking the tidal water seems to be minimal. However, as we move close towards the sea we find another bund, about 300 ft long, constructed further ahead. This bund is quite effective in cutting off the tidal flow. The Google of 2005 indicates the presence of mangroves in and around the nullah but by 2013 only a stagnant water body, probably rain-fed, is seen.

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Vishal Rajemahadik

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