Just last year, mid-day had exposed how the land mafia had gobbled up a whole acre of mangroves in Evershine Nagar in Malad (W) with rampant dumping of construction debris in the area.
Locals took pictures of the heavy machinery being used to clear the mangroves in the area and uploaded some of them online in protest
So when local residents once again saw earthmovers and dumpers gathering there, they knew it was a warning sign. They called the police and the BMC, but neither took any action, and locals watched horror-struck as this time, nearly 1.5 acres of precious mangroves were wiped out in merely three days.
North Mumbai MP Gopal Shetty, whose picture is on the banner, said he had nothing to do with the illegal dumping activity at the site
Local residents and activists have alleged that the authorities are reluctant to take action because the North Mumbai MP, Gopal Shetty is involved.
This allegation gathered steam after a hoarding was put up at the site with the MP’s photograph with the declaration: ‘The work on the 60-feet road, marked in the new DP, from Evershine Nagar to Interface building, has started due to Shri Gopal Shetty’s efforts’.
This road had been proposed in the Development Plan (DP), but is yet to get clearance from the Environment Ministry. However, the banner indulges in much chest-thumping over the BJP MP’s ‘success’.
The banner also displays images of follow-up letters sent by Shetty to BMC, and from the BMC to the Environment ministry. To the layman, this banner might make it seem as if the decision to root out the mangroves is authorised, but, in fact, there is no mention of any clearance from the environment ministry.
“BJP workers have put up a misleading banner with the picture of the local MP, stating the environment department had given permission to begin building the road. How can they start the work when the permission is still pending? I informed the police about it, but they came and said that they could not do anything, as it was the BMC’s responsibility. I informed BMC officials about it, but they said they had not given permission to remove the mangrove trees. I think the local MP is involved in this and that is why the authorities are not taking any action,” said one of the residents.
Activist Shiriq Raza, who lives in the same locality, said, “How can we believe that the environment ministry will give permission to wipe out a mangrove patch just for a road? We have already seen in the past how the Metro II project (Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd) did not get clearance because the ministry would not allow a car depot to be built near mangroves in Charkop.”
“More than 200 dumpers full of debris have been unloaded here. We even complained about it to the cops and the local BMC ward office, but nothing has been done,” he added. Residents were shocked to see the rampant rate at which the trees were being felled and replaced with construction debris, and they clicked several pictures as evidence, uploading some of them on the Internet in protest.
“I was shocked to see the mangrove trees being felled and the way in which debris was being dumped there. From our building’s terrace, we took pictures to show this. We know that there is a proposal in the DP to build a road here, but it cannot happen at the cost of the mangroves,” said another resident, adding that if something is not done soon, another 5 acres of mangroves could be destroyed.
When mid-day contacted the local BMC ward officer, Sangeeta Hasnale, she said, “We have not given any permission to anyone to dump any construction material anywhere. It is the job of the Mangroves Cell to look into the matter and register an FIR with the police and take action against those causing any harm to the mangroves plantation.”
The other side
According to MP Gopal Shetty, however, his supporters had simply jumped the gun and placed the banner there, under the belief that he had managed to get the project cleared. “I called up our party supporters in Malad and asked them why they had put up the banner.
They said they thought the work had begun because of the follow-up we had done with the BMC. Our party workers have nothing to do with the dumping and I personally don’t support any wrongdoing,” he said.
However, he also added, “There is a misconception in the minds of people that mangroves cannot be cut at all, but the fact is, there is a provision in the law that allows mangroves to be cut for a project that is in public interest.”
>> Another mangrove patch just ahead of Ryan International School in Malad is at risk, with illegal dumping on there since Friday evening.
>> Mangroves in Versova were also being destroyed the same way. A few days ago, after Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam and Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray visited the site and announced that swift action would be taken against culprits, the debris was cleared.
Forests Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “If the mangroves are under the ministry’s jurisdiction, immediate action will be taken. If not, the concerned department will be informed.”
In May 2014, mid-day had carried the front-page report ‘How 1 acre of mangroves vanished in nine years’ about rampant dumping and illegal slum development that had swallowed an acre of mangroves in the same area over the course of nine years. The current patch of mangroves being destroyed is just 300 metres away.