Three-storey Mumbai school comes up on mangroves

Jun 08, 2014, 06:42 IST | Shailesh Bhatia

Ex-minister Ranjeet Deshmukh allegedly built Akshara High School at Charkop on the green zone without permission from BMC, hence violating state CRZ laws and a High Court order

Making sheer mockery of the World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5, the management and trustees of Akshara High School at Charkop, Sector 8, have recently built a three-storey school building on mangroves, without requisite permission from civic authorities. This is in complete violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) laws of Maharashtra government and a Bombay High Court order, which prohibits any kind of construction within 50 metres of mangroves.

Also read: Illegal dumping killing Mulund mangroves... again

The vanishing green belt: Locals allege school authorities have built the three-storey building and a playground — (circled in pic) — by illegally reclaiming the wetland. Pic/Shailesh Bhatia

Sunday mid-day has in its possession documents from the Building Proposal department of R Ward, BMC, which have been given in response to a Right to Information (RTI) petition filed by local activist Reji Abraham. The documents state that no proposal has been submitted on the plot. 

PCMCs garbage depo
Akshara High School at Charkop, Sector 8. Pics/ShAILESH BHATIA

“Apart from the building on the mangroves, there’s also a playground the size of a football field there. The wetland has been reclaimed illegally,” alleged Abraham, president of United Association for Social Education and Public Welfare, an NGO. When contacted, ex-state minister and ex-president of  Maharashtra Pradesh Congress party, Ranjeet Deshmukh, who  owns Akshara High School, as confirmed by his manager Anil Nikadu, said that he possessed all requisite papers for the school’s construction.

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

Akshara High School at Charkop
Akshara High School at Charkop, Sector 8. Pics/Shailesh Bhatia

Official speak
Assistant Commissioner Kishore Gandhi (R Central) confirmed that he had received the complaint against the structure and has initiated a departmental inquiry. “We have been given seven days to submit the report,” he said.

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

Rampant encroachment  
Abraham alleged that the land mafia has been conducting illegal operations in Charkop. He claimed that despite bringing this to the notice of authorities from Building and Factory Department, R/ Central Ward, no strict action has been taken. “The latest victim is the Charkop village, in the heart of the mangrove area, whose periphery is being encroached,” he alleged.

Vishal Kamothi, a resident, stated that destruction of mangroves is affecting locals. “Our area used to be a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of Mumbai, owing to the wetlands. But since few years, summers here have become unbearable,” he said.

First-person account 
When this journalist reached the spot, he found that a sizeable portion of the mangroves behind the school had died mysteriously. While their poisoning can only be ascertained by a lab test, locals label this the first signs of encroachment.

Some locals surrounded this journalist when he clicked pictures of the mangrove stretch, which has been demarked by the forest department. He was asked to delete the snaps or face consequences.  The photographs in sunday mid-day’s possession show a large amount of garbage piled up on the banks.

A never-ending saga
In May 2011, mid-day had exposed how Sai Baba Society, Charkop, which was still under construction then, had mangroves on three sides of its compound.

Despite this, plans for the construction of a four-storeyed society were passed and the Building Proposal Department granted an NOC for the development of the land covered by mangroves.

mid-day had also launched a campaign to save the Charkop Lake, spread over four and a half acres, in April 2007. The then Mumbai collector, former executive magistrate and tehsildar Dashrat Sankhe, had stated that the wetland was a natural water body and would be protected. The disputed water body, which is visible on Google Earth, had been certified by the Bombay Natural History Society officials.

Their report had confirmed that it was host to at least 10 species of migratory and resident birds and contributed to the area’s ecological and hydrological balance of the area.

A multi-crore mega housing project, apparently built for government employees, stands here today.

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