Linah Baliga, Mumbai Mirror May 16 2017
It is not just the builder mafia that mangroves in Mumbai are facing a threat from. Mangroves in Juhu and Versova are under dire threat from the civic body itself, thanks to carelessness and oversight in creating the revised draft Development Plan (DP) 2034.
In the planning committee’s report submitted recently to the BMC, three plots of lands in Versova and Juhu have been opened up for development in the draft DP, despite the plots being part of mangrove land.
The presence of mangrove land can be clearly seen in Google Earth visuals and has been verified through site inspections by elected representatives. What’s even more alarming for residents is that there is intentional setting of fire on the said mangrove land every 10 days to destroy them. Fire has been reported six times in the last two months in this area.
The first two contentious plots are on Fisheries Road in Versova. The planning committee’s report has stated that there are no mangroves on one site and the ‘natural area zone’ shown on the plot is deleted and the areas have been reserved for affordable housing. But a site inspection shows vast swathes of mangrove land there.
“BMC says there are no mangroves and already IOD (building permit) and CC (commencement certificate) for construction have been issued. We are challenging the BMC to do a joint site inspection with us to see the huge tracts of mangrove lands,” said local BJP MLA Ameet Satam.
On the same Fisheries Road in Versova, there is another plot of land given by the collector to a Co-operative Housing Society (CHS), which has managed to get a proposed garden converted into a residential zone by raising objections in the DP.
Explaining the modus operandi, Satam said, “This plot is adjoining Versova Creek mangroves. The modus operandi is such that a fictitious society is created on paper and registered in the co-operative department. The society then demands the plot from the revenue department. By citing the fact that they have demanded the plot, they raise objection in the DP and change the reservation to a residential plot.” He added that dereserving a mangrove zone and converting it into developable land is “criminal”.
The third contentious plot of land is on Juhu-Versova Link Road where the reservation of garden was changed to a municipal school. The said plot is part of the mangroves adjoining the creek.
“Ideally it should have been marked as a natural area because there are mangroves and also within a distance of 1 km there is already a DN Nagar municipal school,” said Satam.
What’s become a major cause for concern is the fact that these mangroves are regularly set on fire. Charu Shah, a resident of Yashwant building in Versova, says that she has to alert the fire brigade every 10 days as unscrupulous elements intentionally set the mangroves on fire.
“The whole land gets burnt and they dump debris and stones on it so that there is no further growth of mangroves. I have witnesses and evidences of how this is being done,” said Shah.
Local corporator Rohan Rathod of the BJP added, “The burning of mangroves is a deliberate attempt to usurp land for development. We will not let land sharks and unscrupulous elements grab mangrove land.”
Mangroves are important for a city like Mumbai as they protect the shoreline from erosion, tsunami, storms and floods. They also help maintain water quality and support a wide variety of animals and birds.
Satam and Rathod have written letters and brought this issue to the notice of municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta.