Forest department gives green signal for mangrove parks

Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said he would go ahead with a proposal to build two mangrove parks in Mumbai and surrounding metropolitan regions; the head of a non-profit had proposed the idea first in 2007

Every conservationist dreams about a walk-through in the vast mangroves (wetland) in the city and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). This dream may soon become a reality, as the state forest department has agreed to go ahead with a proposal for mangrove parks, keeping in view the guidelines issued by the High Court. Giving this assurance in the state Assembly, Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said that the city’s mangrove cover had increased manifold in the past 15 years.

Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said that around 400 hutments on protected mangrove land would be removed and that the mangrove area has increased because of efforts to remove encroachments.  File pic for representation
Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said that around 400 hutments on protected mangrove land would be removed and that the mangrove area has increased because of efforts to remove encroachments. File pic for representation

The minister was responding to a calling attention notice from Shiv Sena’s Sada Sarvankar and others. The legislators claimed mangrove cover had reduced because of illegal felling and dumping of construction material.

BJP’s Ashish Shelar asked the minister if his department would approve the mangrove parks proposed by Debi Goenka, head, Conservation Action Trust, a non-profit organisation. Mungantiwar said he was all for such parks and that he would go ahead with the proposal in tune with the directives of the High Court. The wetland park was designed in 2007 on the lines of the Mai Po Wetland Park in Hong Kong and approved in 2009 by the government. However, it has remained on paper since then. Another wetland park, planned at Nerul in Navi Mumbai, was scrapped in 2011.

Mungantiwar claimed that the city’s mangrove cover had increased from 3,400 hectares in 1999 to 5,776 hectares in 2015 (4,001 hectares government land and 1,775 hectares private land). The mangrove area in the city was 4,500 hectares last year. Mungantiwar said this area could increase because of consistent efforts to remove encroachments on the wetland. “Some 400 hutments on protected mangrove area will be removed after the monsoon,” he said, adding that the state-controlled Mangrove Foundation was doing great work in affected areas of the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport. “The foundation will work in other areas as well,” he said.

The minister also agreed to Shelar’s suggestion that the protected mangrove land be declared open space in the city’s Development Plan, which is being revised. “We are in the process of fencing mangrove land. The work will also offer employment to the local people,” the minister said, adding that the government would ask the civic body to provide a separate piece of land for dumping construction material.

'Win win'
Unaware if his idea may finally get the state’s approval, Debi Goenka told mid-day that the mangrove parks would be a win-win situation for Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. “We have plans in place for both parks and what we need is the final push from the forest department,” he said.

As per Conservation Action Trust’s design, Mumbai’s park will stretch between Kanjurmarg and Airoli Bridge, and Navi Mumbai’s will be on a huge patch of wetland along Palm Beach Road in Kharghar.
Goenka said former BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte had promised to fund the city project after the trust lost corporate sponsorship in view of inordinate delays.

“This is what I had last heard. And now I’m hearing from you (mid-day) that the new government is willing to take it forward,” he said.

The activist said the primary condition for the parks, if constructed by state agencies, would be to not harm the mangrove habitat. “I’m a petitioner in the court cases related to mangrove protection and conservation, and hence, I would like to ensure that no damage is caused to the ecosystem.”

Stalin Dayanand, head of non-profit organisation Vanashakti, said such parks are crucial for conserving biodiversity. “It’s the need of the hour because we’re not doing anything substantial to protect or encourage people in this regard. Wetland projects would showcase our natural wealth and the city would be proud of its mangrove parks.”

5,776 hectares
Mangrove cover in the city this year, as per Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar

4,500hectares
Mangrove cover in the city last year, as per the Forest Minister

Mangrove parks

>> Skywalks to be built through wetland. Visitors can walk through without dirtying their feet and courting any trouble
>> Guided tours in which enthusiasts can watch birds, crabs, crocodiles and understand about the mangrove habitat from experts
>> Visitors’ gallery, where they can be educated in conservation and protection of biodiversity
>> Cafeterias where visitors can get food and desist from carrying food to the park. This will prevent plastic pollution in the wetland. The cafeteria proposal is subject to permission under the coastal zone regulations.

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