Miffed with the forest department’s report which claimed that just 11 to 14 mangrove trees were hacked at Panje in Uran, Navi Mumbai, a local resident and an environmentalist have filed a follow-up complaint submitting photographic evidence of 66 hacked trees at the site.
The mangrove cell has agreed to reinvestigate the site to confirm the allegation.
Meanwhile, a member of the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed mangrove and wetland grievance redressal panel has asked all city-based environmentalists to approach the HC to file a contempt petition, as the committee had ‘failed’ to address several cases of mangrove destruction, including Panje.
On Monday, a local resident and birder Parag Gharat, and environmentalist Aishwarya Sridhar wrote to the forest department opposing the mangrove cell’s submissions that investigated a section of the Panje wetland on Saturday.
The duo were also among the complainants who highlighted the mangrove destruction at Panje last week by filing separate complaints on Wednesday and Friday. “We decided to visit the site during low tide on Monday for easier access to deeper patches that were not inundated and found 66 hacked mangrove tree branches at a small distance from each other. We have taken photos of each branch and can guide the forest department through the entire route of environmental violation,” Gharat said, adding, “The reason why the forest department found very little trees cut is because their inspection took place closer to high tide when most of the cut branches were underwater and could not be clearly seen.”
Mangrove destruction was banned by the HC in September 2018 across Maharashtra. “This is clearly contempt of HC orders and an attempt to prove that this wetland has no mangroves so that the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) can start land filling the area,” said Sridhar.
Environmentalists, the City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (Cidco), and private companies have been in a tussle for over two years now to protect Panje from proposed industrial and residential projects including the NMSEZ. The owner of the land is Cidco, Navi Mumbai’s planning agency, which has leased it out to private companies developing the NMSEZ.
On Saturday itself, the forest department wrote to the Raigad district administration to act in the matter and told Cidco to respond to the environmental violation. HT had reported on Sunday that Cidco’s nodal officer (environment) said that mangroves had been hacked by unidentified persons for aquaculture purposes (tree branches to hold nets during high tide). “There is no such activity at Panje or in the vicinity for decades now,” countered Sridhar.
Ashish Thakre, the deputy conservator of forest (Alibag) said, “We will be sending our team of forest officers to the site again during low tide to inspect and confirm the exact number of trees hacked. It is a serious violation and exact details need to be brought on record.”
Stalin D, a member of the HC-appointed panel, responded to one of the complainants in the Panje mangrove destruction case on Sunday. His letter, which HT has reviewed, read, “As a member of the committee I apologise for the miserable failure on the ground to protect Panje. All directions given by the committee to Cidco, revenue department and local administration have been flouted time and again. Please consider filing a contempt petition in the Bombay HC at the earliest.”
He told HT that the state’s coastal zone management authority, responsible for issuing permissions for building a seawall near Panje, had not attended a HC-committee meeting while local residents of Panje village had vested interests in actively pursuing wetland destruction. “I want to ensure citizens do not feel handicapped in such environment violations, and complainants need to know the facts. There is a need to highlight the lawlessness even after clear instructions have been passed by the HC,” said Stalin.