Nauzer K Bharucha & Richa Pinto, Times of India, July 16 2017
Two decades after complaints surfaced about destruction of mangroves on a 500-acre swathe in Oshiwara belonging to the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy family (part of it controlled by the Sahara Group), CM Devendra Fadnavis constituted a committee headed by Mumbai University vice-chancellor Sanjay Deshmukhto ascertain if the land was reclaimed by destroying mangroves.
In May , the six-member committee was given 15 days to submit its report on the extent of destruction with specific geographical locations, if any , and the present status of the site. The committee was to recommend further course of action, as directed by the Union environment ministry . But TOI has learnt that two months later, the panel is still not ready with its report. “The team hasn’t submitted its report. We will inquire with them,” state environment secretary Satish Gavai said. Deshmukh did not respond to TOI’s calls and SMSes.
While environmentalists described the government’s decision as a “smokescreen,” stating that the destruction had already been confirmed by the Union environment ministry in 2002, local residents on Saturday complained to the police about debris being dumped on the land situated opposite Millat Nagar in Andheri (W).
Ashoke Pandit, chairman of the Oshiwara Lokhandwala Citizens Association (OLCA) said that on Saturday morning, he received a call from local residents about the dumping.”The wetland belt is totally in a shambles and dumping takes place regularly . There is complete apathy on mangrove protection. We have complained repeatedly , yet there appears to be no action,” he said.
Ateam from Oshiwara police station visited the site on Saturday morning. “We have asked for documents for scrutiny and that work be stopped temporarily ,” said a police officer.”BMC officers were also present. They will decide if violations have taken place and if permissions were obtained. No FIR has been registered yet.”
City environmentalists who fought the case up to the Supreme Court alleged the government wanted to release this no-development land for construction purposes. The land owners and Sahara, who in 2002 had planned an 18-hole golf course and villas, have consistently denied the land had mangroves.
He said MoEF had written to the state over three years ago, asking it to act against the builder. In September 2002, a site inspection was carried out by then MoEF secretary and a ministry sub-group. It reported CRZ violations and confirmed mangroves were destroyed.The ministry revoked the CRZ clearance. Later, MoEF officials carried out another visit on November 3, 2002 and found reclamation by dumping of soil and levelling of land.
In 2013, Sahara group submitted land documents to market regulator Sebi after an SC order asking it to return Rs 20,500 crore to investors.