Mangroves outside Mumbai Metropolitan Region are not protected by state cell

Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, May 28 2017

Link to news article

Two years after 15,088 hectares of mangroves along the Maharashtra coastline were notified as reserved forest by the state government, apart from the entire mangrove cover in Mumbai, the revenue department has not yet handed over 9,600 hectares to the state mangrove cell.

The mangrove cell came into being in 2013 as the state’s nodal agency to protect mangroves and take action against those destroying them. However, with only the mangroves in Mumbai under its jurisdiction, officials say many mangrove destruction cases are going unchecked across the state.

Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants, trees, shrubs or ground fern of tropical and subtropical intertidal regions of the world. Such areas are highly productive, but extremely sensitive and fragile. Besides mangroves, the ecosystem also harbours other plant and animal species.

Between August 2015 and January 2016, the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office sanctioned and handed 5,471 ha of mangrove forests from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane — all under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. However, till date, the remaining 9,617 ha from Raigad, remaining parts of Thane, Palghar, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg continue to remain under the jurisdiction of the revenue officials from each district.

According to the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office, there have been 233 mangrove destruction cases between April 2016 and May 2017, of which, inquiry is pending in 21 cases, mostly from Thane, Mira-Bhayander, Raigad and Sindhudurg districts.
“While there is a dedicated cell to probe mangrove destruction cases, sub-divisional officers from each district are not well versed with the Environment Protection Act, 1986 as opposed to the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927. Therefore, in situations where mangroves have been destroyed, a complete follow-up investigation is currently missing. It is the need of the hour to hand over the remaining mangrove area to the cell,” said a senior state official.

Meanwhile, officials from the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office said that the entire 9,617 ha is likely to be handed over in the next three months. “The entire process of handing over these forests is extremely tedious,” said Bhausaheb Dangade, Konkan deputy commissioner (revenue).

First, the sub-divisional officer needs to send out a notice for the notification under IFA, 1927 through vernacular newspapers. Then citizens will submit their objections followed by public hearing. Once the process is resolved, the entire process happens at the district collector’s level, followed by the Konkan commissioner and then the state government. “While the process has been completed in a number of districts, only a few remain and by August we will be handing over the area to the cell.”

“The revenue department is deliberately keeping the mangroves in the state out of the purview of the forest department so that it can be made available for construction and various other projects. This is a deliberate attempt and defiance of the Bombay high court (HC) orders from 2005,” said Stalin D, project director, NGO Vanashakti.

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