Mangrove malady: Will INS Hamla sort out its ‘wetland’ woes?

Sonali Telang, The Afternoon July 22 2016


The INS Hamla officials have reportedly cut down mangroves and despite warnings from the District Collector, have not cleared the dumped debris from the naval base premises

Earlier this week, the District Collector had written to the Lieutenant Commander of INS Hamla complaining about the ongoing illegal reclamation of the mangroves spread over the naval base INS Hamla and the surrounding naval land. The site has been rendered a dumping pile of debris since the last four months.

Environmentalists have asserted that the naval station of INS Hamla has destroyed over 400 trees of the 10-acre mangrove land at the Lagoon Road of Malvani,  Malad West. They have been constantly carrying out construction work at the site and disposing off the debris into the wetland. In January 2016, it was first reported that mangroves at the aforementioned site are being destroyed illegally by unknown elements. Even as it garnered  criticism from the locals and NGOs, it was discovered that the cutting down of mangroves was allegedly being done by officials at the naval base of the INS Hamla.

Shweta Bhatt, Conservation Officer, Conservation Action Trust said, “We have filed numerous complaints. Whenever the dumping gets highlighted among the public, they halt the work for a while. But once it subsides, they resume it. Now when the work is stopped after intervention of the Collector, the debris still lies there. Ideally, they should remove the debris as it will just worsen the wetland.” Also, the residents of the area claim that that excavators and drilling machines are still present at the site, despite no work permit being given to them.

However, Debi Goenka, an expert in environmental affairs of Mumbai, pointed out that the Central government need to clear its stance on the ambiguity in the draft policy, regarding ‘profiling’ of the ‘Wetlands’. Goenka said, “According to the new draft policy, the state has not identified the mangrove area of Malad as a ‘wetland’. This has created many hindrances in bringing out any changes on the front, as some officials have defended the illegal dumping stating that the land does not fall under the Wetland Protection Act (2016).”

However, officials from the INS Hamla claimed that they have not harmed the mangroves and had only levelled the wetlands, in order to tighten security at the naval station. But later, denizens of Malvani also protested that the INS Hamla force has reclaimed a pond close to its naval base building. To this, the officials have responded stating that they had filled up the pond, after receiving a complaint from a nearby school that the pond had turned into a breeding site for mosquitoes, thereby causing health issues for students.

The destruction of mangroves has also been frowned upon by the fishing community of Malvani. They fear that the land may suffer a deluge during high tides, destroying their source of livelihood. As of now, there is an immediate need to remove the debris, prevent further damage to the mangroves and flooding that could arise owing to the present monsoon.

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