Illegal dumping killing Mulund mangroves... again

Jun 06, 2014, 06:34 IST | Shailesh Bhatia and Dhara Vora

3 years after mid-day exposed rampant destruction of the large patch of eco-sensitive wetlands in the Mulund-Thane belt, the culprits are back to disposing debris near the natural habitat

The huge mangrove belt in the Mulund-Thane area has once again fallen prey to greedy, ruthless builders and their contractors. Trucks filled with construction debris have been regularly going to the site to unload their rubble right next to them.

Also read: How 1 acre of mangroves vanished in nine years

We spotted many trucks unloading rubble at the mangroves. Pics/Sameer Markande
We spotted many trucks unloading rubble at the mangroves. Pics/Sameer Markande

Over the last couple of days, our team has kept a vigilant eye on the area, which is partially being used by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) as a dumping ground, and estimates that up to two hundred trucks still dump debris on the surrounding site.

A truck dumps construction debris in the area adjacent to the mangroves
A truck dumps construction debris in the area adjacent to the mangroves

In 2011, this paper had exposed the rampant destruction of the large eco-sensitive wetland, which sprawls over a two-kilometre radius. The natural plantation was being systematically choked to make way for private construction work and other ‘development’ work.

Also read: Under collector's nose, encroachment in BKC killing its mangroves

A pointless board proclaims nobody is allowed to enter the ‘Restricted Area’
A pointless board proclaims nobody is allowed to enter the 'Restricted Area'

Whose land is it?
The entire area has always been a blurred spot when it comes to authorities willing to take responsibility the dumping ground comes under the civic Solid Waste Management department, and the adjacent area comes under a Special Economic Zone, without any clear demarcation as to where the SEZ starts. Environment groups are contesting the SEZ project itself.

Also read: Is Mumbai's largest wetland being mowed down on the sly?

mid-day’s front page report on May 12, 2011 about the mangroves of Mulund
mid-day’s front page report on May 12, 2011 about the mangroves of Mulund

We followed a truck (MH-04-DK-2227), which had unloaded debris on the mangroves, and followed it all the way from Thane to an under-construction building site of Flying Kite (Neptune Group), on LBS Marg in Bhandup (West). The vehicle was refilled with rubble there, and half an hour later, was back at the wetland to do its chores.

At one point of time, over four trucks were seen entering the gate, even as a torn and tattered notice put up by the government authorities mutely proclaimed it to be a “Restricted Area, By Order Development Commissioner Government of India.” What’s more, a security guard at the gate allows no one to ‘trespass’, but keeps a record of all trucks that enter.

Locals say this has been happening since BMC and other officials got busy with elections in April, showing scant regard to a High Court order (vide PIL no 3246) and state CRZ laws, which forbid any dumping or construction within 50 metres of mangroves.

Destroying greenery
Environmentalist Anil Kunte is associated with an organisation called HOPE, which has been working in the Thane creek area and also conducts nature-related workshops. He informed us that the organisation has filed a case with the National Green Tribunal on May 20, 2014 over the matter.

“A beautiful wetland, where we have recorded over 140 species of birds, some so rare as the water cock that it attracted birdwatchers from all over India, is being destroyed,” he said.

Kunte, who has been visiting the mangroves for the last 25 years, remembered spotting mongoose and jackals there. “These are nearly 10 acres of wetland starting from Thane (East), stretching up to Airoli.

They are partially covered with mangroves and other flora and fauna. These were once saltpans, which were in use till 2006. The elements of nature reclaimed the land over a period of time. Now their habitat is being choked by building artificial bunds and subsequent dumping,” he added.

Local Corporator Bharat Chavan, who resides on the top floor of a building called Kamdhenu, which overlooks the wetland, blamed the entire mess on political differences between the leaders of the area.

“We have made innumerable complaints and even physically stopped the dumpers, but it has no long-term result. Up to two hundred private dumpers visit the site daily — it goes on throughout the night, too” he alleged.

Thane MLA Niranjan Davkhare blamed it on the nexus between the builder lobby and a segment of the civic lobby. “I shall be writing to the municipal commissioners of Mumbai and Thane to take swift action, and also raise this issue on the floor of the house.

Strict vigilance from locals too will be appreciated. With the drains and mangroves being choked rampantly, there is every likelihood that areas towards Kopri, Thane, will be flooded as the monsoon sets in” he said.

P S Raman, joint development commissioner of the SEEPZ Special Economic Zone clarified that his organisation had not permitted trucks to dump on the site. “We will have to verify what is happening on the ground level, as this could be the handy work of some developer,” he added.

The other side

Neptune Group initially told us that their site engages in miniscule debris and they have no involvement in the contractor’s mode of operations. Later, Nayan Shah, their president (operations), replied, “Neptune Group being a socially responsible and eco-friendly business undertaking is committed to many causes along with the environment.

We have engaged modern construction technologies to minimise the scope of debris or residue. Also, construction operations are outsourced only to a few reputed contractors, strictly bound by the company’s stringent protocol of lawfully disposing the debris.

Having brought it to our notice now, the matter will be duly probed into and appropriate actions would be taken against the contractor, if found flouting the protocol.” The contract to develop the SEZ has been awarded to Zeus Constructions, now called Sunstream City Pvt Ltd.

Its GM AVS Menon stated the project had all permissions from the pollution control and environment ministry. “The area is not a wetland, nor is it forest land. Dumping is totally legal,” he argued.

BMC speak
Siraj Ansari Ahmed, chief engineer of the Solid Waste Management department, said, “Dumping construction debris at the dumping ground is illegal. If the unloading is happening on the dumping ground, we will take action against it. The adjacent area does not come under our jurisdiction.”

Mangroves cell says
Meanwhile, the Mangroves Cell of the Maharashtra Forest Department seem to have dug their heads into the ground, hoping the problem will disappear. Chief conservator of Forests N Vasudevan was unreachable, despite several attempts.

Vidyadhar Jukar, assistant conservator of forests of the cell, told this paper, “We have officers to take care of the mangrove areas and they see to it that no illegal proceedings happen.”

Number of trucks that dump debris from construction sites at these wetlands daily

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