Dumping of debris threatens mangrove cover in Charkop

Illegal dumping of kilos of debris in Charkop wetland, Kandivli, threatens to erode mangrove cover over a massive 52-acre area; shanties raising RPI flags stand in place of green carpet

Another case of the land mafia systematically destroying mangroves in order to claim the land for construction has come to light. This time, in Charkop Village, Kandivli, mangroves across an area of 52 acres of the coastline are under attack. The total mangrove cover in Charkop is much larger.

Local activists say that in the last few days, truckloads of debris have been dumped on the land. Concrete chokes mangroves, making the wetland more amenable to construction. Not just is this harmful to the environment, but also against the law as mangroves are protected under Gazette No 2010 of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and a CRZ Notification of 2011 by the Maharashtra government.

Concrete-filled gunny bags have been placed along the land to prevent water from reaching the mangroves. Shanties on the land carry RPI (above) banners, but the party denies any connection. PICS/shailesh Bhatia
(Above) Concrete-filled gunny bags have been placed along the land to prevent water from reaching the mangroves. Shanties on the land carry RPI (below) banners, but the party denies any connection. PICS/shailesh Bhatia

Reji Abraham, president of the United Association for Social Education and Public Welfare, who has been an environment warrior in Charkop and neighbouring areas for close to a decade and is member of the Bombay High Court Committee for Protecting Mangroves in the city, alleged that it was apparent that land sharks were using unscrupulous means to destroy the protected green cover.

"The crime came to light just three days back, when truck loads of debris being plied in the night caught my attention. On closer inspection, the trucks were seen heading towards the wetland for dumping of debris," said Abraham, who then complained to the concerned authorities.

When SUNDAY mid-day visited the site on Saturday afternoon, we spotted endless rows of gunny bags filled with sand and rubble placed along the periphery of the reclaimed plot, to prevent water from entering the area, eventually killing the mangroves.

In fact, more than seven concrete shanties had already been built on the reclaimed land and children were seen playing and flying kites on the debris-filled surface.

What is ironic is that, this time around, workers claiming alliance to a political party are using the name of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, father of the Indian constitution, to carry out the illegal dumping in the name of the great leader. Part of the cordoning off of the reclaimed land was done using blue flags of the Republican Party of India (RPI).

However, the party public relations officer, Mayur Borkar said the party’s senior leaders were not involved in the destruction of mangroves and this was being done without their knowledge or approval.

"If at all our party flags and banners, depicting our head Ramdas Athavle — currently out of town — are being used for illegal activities, it’s most probably being done by ground-level workers, most of whom are from slums. We deplore this and suggest that strict action be taken against them," he said.

For now, N Vasudevan, Chief Conservator-Forest, Mangrove Cell, Government of Maharashtra, said that three people have been arrested from the site. Another officer from the station added that, however, their role in the dumping hasn’t been ascertained, neither has it been proven that they belong to any political party.

"Our team, on visiting the site, found that the illegal houses were being constructed on the protected land. We will be demolishing them soon and subsequently dredging the area, to restore the wetland so that mangroves can be restored," assured Vasudevan. Assistant BMC Commissioner R South, Sahebrao Gaikwad informed that his office has sought extra police protection for the wetland, especially at night, when most of the dumping takes place across the city. "So far we have detained two truck loads of debris," he added.

Local MLA Yogesh Sagar, from the Bharatiya Janata Party, said that he had spoken to officials of Mumbai police, urging them to and even the collector, to initiate strict action.

The Mangrove Cell was created by the Maharashtra government in January 2012 to protect, conserve and manage the state’s mangroves. The Mangroves Cell was formed with an intention to create awareness about the importance of mangroves and to train staff for effective conservation of mangrove areas.

Stalin Dayanand, director of NGO Vanashakti, who spearheads the movement to save Mumbai’s wetlands, said, "Mumbai has around 5500 hectares of mangroves forest. In the last decade, 500-800 hectares of mangroves have vanished or been affected due to dumping and other pollution related activities. The notified mangroves forest is protected under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The mangroves patch that is not notified is protected under the Urban Tree Felling Act of 1964. All mangroves are also protected under Environment Protection Act, 1986."

Speaking off the record, some environmentalists emphasized that fact that though the laws and punishments have been underlined by the Government and the Judiciary, they lacked the punch to infuse fear in the minds of those who blatantly violated all the norms of destroying natural habitats, for pure commercial gains, as they are confident of finding loop holes in the system and avoid punishment.

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