“JNPT claims notwithstanding, the ground reality shows reclamation and destruction of mangroves,” environmentalists say
MUMBAI: Under pressure from the State Government and activists to handover mangroves to the Forest Department, JNPT has finally admitted that it has 913.6 hectares of the sea forest under it while claiming that it has reclaimed ‘zero’ land for its SEZ project.
In response to different RTI queries from NGO NatConnect Foundation, the country’s largest container port also admitted that it has reclaimed 400 hectares for its port activities in excess of the 2,933.97 hectares allotted to it. These parcels include 1,169.57 ha of private land, salt pans of 1,232.84 ha and government land of 530.97 ha.
“We filed the first appeal under RTI as JNPT has earlier said it has no record of the mangroves under it and deleted the reference to the sea forest from its website,” said NatConnect Director B N Kumar.
“I guess, the Forest department can now move and take over the 913.6 hectares of mangroves for conservation as a reserved forest to check further destruction,” he said.
JNPT is facing a contempt petition filed by Vanashakti Foundation for its alleged failure to transfer the mangroves to the Forest department despite a Bombay High Court order. Even the State government had already declared mangroves as reserve forests and the HC appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee too asked the coastal district collectors to ensure this.
In response to another RTI query, JNPT informed NatConnect that it has been allotted 277.38 hectares for its port-based SEZ project and it reclaimed ‘zero’ land.
“JNPT claims notwithstanding, the ground reality shows reclamation and destruction of mangroves,” said Kumar.
Kumar expressed concern at the JNPT SEZ work in progress as the MCZMA has clearly confirmed that the port does not have CRZ clearance. The Environment Clearance renewed for JNPT does not mention a word about either mangroves or wetlands, he pointed out.
“We are not against any development work that ensures local socio-economic development, but these projects are impacting the lives and livelihoods of the people who have been living here for ages,” the activist said.
“We sent photographic evidence of debris being dumped on mangroves and lush green areas converted into man-made deserts,” Kumar said and called for a thorough investigation into this. In a tongue-in-cheek comment he said Bollywood film makers do not have to go to Dubai or Rajasthan for desert sequence shoots. “They are welcome to JNPT sites,” he said in his letter to Uddhav Thackeray.
NatConnect, Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan and traditional fishermen’s forum Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti have drawn the attention of the Chief Minister to, what they called, the large-scale destruction of mangroves and wetlands in the ecologically sensitive Uran taluka.
The CM asked the Environment Department to look into the issues and the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) directed the Raigad district zone monitoring committee (DCMC) to check and take appropriate action.
One can see with naked eye the dumping of debris and earth on mangroves and JNPT has been known to be in denial mode, said Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. “The modus operandi is simple. The project proponents engage local contractors and wash their hands off,” Pawar said.
“The reclamation has led to the closure of fishing channels impacting our very survival,” said Dilip Koli of the fishing community forum.
In a related development the Environment Department informed Nandakumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan that the MCZMA has not given any clearance for road development on mangroves at Ulwe and landfill at Sawarkhar. Pawar said JNPT has been doing this landfill and the government asked the Collector to check these violations.
On Pawar’s petition, the NGT has recently constituted a committee to go into the compliance of the Environmental Clearance by JNPT.