Linah Baliga, Mumbai Mirror, May 25, 2017
Suburban collector writes to civic body, asking why it has not cancelled developer’s plan for construction on Oshiwara forestland.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is facing flak for its failure to prevent commencement of building construction work on a contentious plot of mangroves at Oshiwara in Andheri (West).
The suburban collector’s office, which has taken note of the matter, wrote to the civic body on May 22, asking why the layout proposal of Samartha Development Corporation — the builder that has taken up construction work at the disputed site — has not been cancelled and no action initiated even though an FIR was filed against the company’s chief promoter by the tehsildar in 2012 under the Environment Protection Act for destruction of mangroves on the said plot.
The letter, a copy of which is with Mumbai Mirror, also states that currently, a hearing is going on in the Lokayukta for removal of debris from within 50 metres of mangrove buffer zone.
“The BMC’s building proposal department should initiate action against the builder in view of a Bombay High Court order, which bars construction within 50 metres of mangrove land,” the letter further said.
The suburban collector acted after Samartha Development Corporation sent a letter to it on March 22 this year, informing that it would go ahead with construction work at Oshiwara because the stop-work notice, issued to it by Maharashtra Coastal Zonal Management Authority (MCZMA) on June 29, 2013, was withdrawn on February 17, 2017.
But activists like Sachin Dhuri, who complained against the developer for destroying the mangroves and has been pursuing this case since 2012, point out that the MCZMA withdrew the stop-work notice with some conditions that the builder is blatantly ignoring. “This stop-work notice has been withdrawn by MCZMA on the condition that the BMC should ensure no construction within 50 metres of the mangrove buffer zone area. But clearly, the BMC is not overseeing the construction work properly. Such laxity on part of BMC’s building proposal department will make the city lose its green cover,” said Dhuri of Yuva Pratishthan Samajik Sanstha.
He has filed a complaint in the Lokayukta, which will hear the case in June.
The activists and local residents further argued that the BMC’s building proposal department faulted in the first place by granting permission to the developer to take up constructions on a plot that was confirmed as forestland by the forest department in a report (dated December 12, 2013) submitted to the collector.
“This plot of land is situated by a Mogra Nala which is densely populated by a thick mangrove forest such as Avicennia Marina, Salvadora Persica, Thespesia Populnea existed on the said plot and by the nala. The aforesaid mangroves on the plot have been destroyed by filling up the plot with debris and construction of a wall to block the sea water/backwaters flowing in the nala thereby killing and destroying mangroves. This plot has been declared as ‘forest’ by the government in its notification,” the report stated.
Citing the forest department’s report, advocate Amit Survase of Bombay High Court asked, “When the forest department has said that there are mangroves on the said plot, why did MCZMA withdraw the stop-work notice and issue a conditional NOC. This conditional NOC doesn’t mean permission is granted. Also, why did BMC issue building permissions in 2013 without surveying the site?”
When contacted, Vikas Walawalkar, partner in Samartha Development Corporation, refused to accept that they were constructing buildings on mangrove land.
“We received permissions from the MCZMA recently. Earlier, we had got the IOD (building permit) and CC (commencement certificate) from BMC in 2013. In the past, MCZMA had issued stop-work notice but now it has given us permission to carry on with our work. We have submitted an application for amendment of plans. The plot is on Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) II, and we need to maintain a distance of 50 metres from mangroves. We are doing that,” said Walawalkar.
PR Rasal, executive engineer of BMC’s building proposal department, K-West ward, sang a different tune. He claimed that the approval issued to the builder was an old one. “We will visit the site and look into the matter on a priority basis,” Rasal promised.