In a span of less than 10 years, local slumlords, builders and even some fishermen have ensured that more than half an acre of mangroves has vanished from Versova village and made way for hutments and bamboo stands.

The hutments have come up in the mangrove patch behind Shiv Galli in Versova Koliwada
The hutments have come up in the mangrove patch behind Shiv Galli in Versova Koliwada

Residents of Shiv Galli in Versova Koliwada say that while the slumlords have been constructing the huts, fishermen have been chopping off the mangroves to make room for bamboo stands, which they use to hang fish to dry before selling the catch in the market.

A resident said mangroves are also being burnt and debris dumped in the night. “I have been staying here for more than 10 years now and, until a few years ago, the area behind Versova Koliwada had a good mangrove cover.

mid-day’s report on November 2, 2014
mid-day’s report on November 2, 2014

Over the years, more than half an acre of mangroves has vanished and slumlords are constructing hutments there. Some fishermen are supporting this and they have also erected bamboo stands to hang the fish for drying. If the authorities don’t take a serious stand soon, the remaining mangroves in the area will also vanish,” he said.

When mid-day visited the area yesterday, we saw that debris had indeed been dumped in several places. We could see at least five illegal houses and locals said there were others inside the forest that were not visible from the road.

Authorities snoozing?
Residents and experts claim they have complained to the local police and BMC ward office, but they have not got a proper response. Environmentalist Stalin Dayanand from NGO Vanshakti said, “Even after two high court orders, the destruction of mangroves and wetlands has not stopped.

This tells you how much the judiciary is respected in Maharashtra. Slumlords backed by politicians have a free hand to destroy mangroves, reclaim wetlands and construct and sell hutments on coastal regulation zone (CRZ) land. Full cooperation is silently assured by the revenue and police departments and municipal authorities.”

Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal said, “Overall, the situation with regard to mangroves has deteriorated as the citizen groups are no longer as active as they were a few years back. Also, I think the mangrove cell is not functioning well at all. The cell was set up precisely to tackle issues like the destruction of mangroves, but it has not been successful in preventing these things from happening.”