Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, September 8 2017
According to MMCU officials, several notices were issued and demolitions had been carried out at the 1,000 sq metre plot located less than 50-metre away from mangroves but the school refused to vacate the plot. Taking cognisance of the matter, the MMCU, along with personnel from Trombay police station, arrested Sugandha Ratnam George under various sections of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and was produced in the Kurla Magistrate Court on Friday evening.
“She was released on bail and has been fined Rs15,000 for mangrove destruction. The court ordered the school to be shut immediately and the land to be vacated within a week,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forests, MMCU, who issued the arrest order.
The destruction of mangrove forests across the state and construction within 50-metres of mangroves was banned by the Bombay high court in 2005. The ordered was issued after its heard a public interest litigation (PIL) by Bombay Environment Action Group, highlighting rampant destruction of mangroves in the city.
“The school was constructed illegally and it was observed that more than 100 mangrove trees were destroyed. The violation was first observed in October 2015 following which the MMCU issued a notice to the school. After we failed to get a response, the MMCU held a hearing and orders were issued to raze illegal extensions of the school,” said Ghodke.
In May 2016, the school constructed a few toilets inside the mangrove patch, said officials. “A month later, we demolished them as well and issued final orders under sections of the Environment Protection Act, 1986,” said PR Chaudhari, range forest officer, Navi Mumbai.
Ignoring the orders, the school constructed a few more toilets on June 14. These were demolished on June 24.“The school might have been operational for the past 15 years, but the number of violations forced us to take the necessary step and arrest the trustee,” said Ghodke. “We will work with the school authorities to ensure the students get admission into other schools in the area.”
Despite repeated attempts, school officials remained unavailable for comment.
Officials from the state said there is need for more awareness among citizens to protect the city’s mangrove cover, as it prevents inundation during monsoon.
“The case indicates a clear defiance of environmental laws and negligence towards protecting these trees for personal gain. This action will act as deterrence for all those trying to encroach on mangrove land, the impact of which is felt throughout the city during the monsoon,” said a senior official.