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Activists Cry for Green Police as infra projects cause ‘eco destruction’

MUMBAI: The all round massive and blind infrastructure development all across Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), without caring for the environment, poses a grave danger to the bio-diversity with disastrous consequences, activists warned.

Participating in a Media Seminar on the occasion of the Environment at Mumbai Press Club, the activists called for setting up a dedicated Green Police to deal with offenders of the Environment Act as the existing police setup is woefully inadequate even to handle routing crime.

The theme of the seminar, organized by Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) was: ‘Our City – Our Duty’

From Bullet Train project to Navi Mumbai airport and the special economic zones in Uran are all going to play havoc with the City’s nature as mangroves, wetlands and hills are being wiped out, said Nandkumar Pawar of Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP).

As much as 5,000 hectares of mangrove and wetland area in eco-sensitive Uran area is heading for a major disaster as non-stop landfill has been going on unchecked by any authority whatsoever. “Much time has been lost as the environment monitoring officials were busy with the Lok Sabha elections and even the symbolic action of halting the landfill by the Bombay High Court appointed mangrove monitoring committee may not be of be much avail as permanent damage to the mangroves and wetlands would have been done to the wetlands,” Pawar said.

Over 70,000 people in 15 villages face the danger floods due to the reckless landfill by NMSEZ as creek water is forced to find its own course. “As it is, we had five villages reeling under floods during high tides,” he said.

The trouble started with CIDCO with its short-sighted approach allotting wetlands and mangrove areas to both JNPT and Navi Mumbai SEZ. What is even shocking is that the holding pond created ostensibly as a flood-control mechanism has been allotted to NMSEZ.

Making a presentation on the ‘real dangers’, activist B N Kumar, director of The Nature Connect, said the people in general have to be alert to save the city and keep pressure on the authorities and project proponents. He sent a suggestion to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for setting up Green Police. “I received a reply from the CMO that the suggestion has been referred to the Home department and I am taking the RTI route to follow-up,” he said.

SEAP and The Nature Connect have already represented to the President and the Prime Minister for stopping the Bullet Train project from running through the leopard and flamingo zones of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The high-speed train is also slated to mow down 54,000 mangroves.

The activists, quoting responses to RTI applications, have said that neither JNPT nor NMSEZ had any permission for destroying wetlands and mangroves with their landfill and excavation. The project proponents have also not paid any royalty to the revenue authorities for transporting soil dug from the nearby hills. On top of these, JNPT has built a Shiv Smarak on Dastan Phata wetland without permissions.

Dastan Phata presents a sad story as JNPT did not heed to the Mangrove Committee instructions to stop landfill. In an earlier violation, the Committee imposed a penalty of mere Rs one lakh on the port trust for choking 4,500 mangroves during construction of the container terminal-4. NHAI, on its part, has choked another set of 4,600 mangroves by blocking free flow of creek water, much needed for the ecologically important sea plants.

Between JNPT and NHAI, in theses alone, they destroyed mangroves in an area equivalent to the size of Azad Maidan, Kumar said.

 “In response to our earlier plea, the Chief Minister was kind enough to refer the JNPT violation issue to the Urban Development and the State Ports Departments,” said Kumar. “But there seems to be no further action at all though the Raigad district administration itself has confirmed in response to an RTI application that JNPT had no permissions to do landfill at Dastan Phata wetland,” he regretted.

Simultaneously, mangroves along the highways in the MMR are being systematically destroyed by dumping debris and even road waste. The MCZMA has taken congnisance of the activists’ complaints. “But this appears to be just symbolic as no culprit has been either found or punished,” said Kumar. The debris is cleverly leveled to allow quiet expansion of the highways as can be seen at Vashi, Mankhurd and other places.

All concerned authorities seem to aware of the unuathorised chopping of mangroves and destruction of mangroves in broad day light, yet no action is taken against the culprits.

The Parsik Hill quarrying may have been stopped after an NGT ruling, but CIDCO is making fresh moves to revive. But just behind these hills, massive quarrying is currently in progress at Kharghar impacting the rainwater holding hills even as the area continues to face acute water shortage, the activists said. Certain builders continue to cut the hill and the trees of which NGT has taken note of.

“The various permissions given to the infrastructure projects clearly stipulate that the local people’s livelihood should be affected. But here in Uran no one seems to care for the rule of law,” Tukaram Koli of Paaramparik Machhimaar Bachao Kruti Samiti, the fishermen’s group, said. “We have been running from pillar to post for justice and we are being taken for granted as our peaceful protests are peaceful without causing any disturbance to public life or functioning of the government departments or private agencies,” another fishermen group activist Dilip Koli said.

The permissions given to JNPT SEZ clearly say that the project proponent has to adhere to the local environment rules that might be amended from time to time and be bound by the various court rulings. “But the project proponents show scant respect for the law and are in constant denial mode,” Pawar added.