At the root of city’s man­grove mas­sacre

High value of land they oc­cupy ex­plains why an HC or­der ban­ning their de­struc­tion has had lit­tle ef­fect

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - Badri Chat­ter­jee

MUM­BAI: The 1,000-square-feet of man­grove for­est en­croached by ac­tor Kapil Sharma next to his of­fice in Versova, And­heri (West), will be worth around Rs2 crore, said city-based real­tors. Res­i­dents of an­other 60 bun­ga­lows along the 400m stretch of the road, too, have al­legedly con­verted sim­i­lar patches of wet­lands into their back­yards, said of­fi­cials from the state man­grove cell. The value of the il­le­gally re­claimed land: Rs120 crore.

The high value of the land ex­plains why, even af­ter a Bom­bay high court or­der in 2005 banned con­struc­tion within 50m of man­grove ar­eas and an­other or­der in March 2014 im­posed an in­terim ban on recla­ma­tion and con­struc­tion on wet­lands (which man­groves are a part of), such forests con­tinue to be de­stroyed —109 cases were reported this year in the sub­urbs.

Man­grove forests are a vi­brant ecosys­tem that harbour an­i­mal life, mi­gra­tory birds and serve as breed­ing ar­eas for ma­rine species. The forests are also nat­u­ral buf­fers dur­ing cy­clones and tsunamis, ab­sorb­ing the brunt of the force of waves. In Mum­bai, man­groves are lo­cated next to posh res­i­den­tial and busi­ness ar­eas. The short­age of open land for con­struc­tion and the high value of real es­tate means the city’s re­main­ing man­grove forests are fac­ing an un­cer­tain future. Some of the forests are pri­vately owned. These are the ar­eas that are most vul­ner­a­ble to de­struc­tion, said real-es­tate ex­perts.

“It is a sim­ple process of il­le­gally ac­quir­ing land in Mum­bai. First, a wet­land patch is iden­ti­fied. Next, en­croach­ments in the form of shanties are al­lowed to set­tle on these patches for a few months, which de­stroy the man­groves. Lastly, the en­croach­ments are re­moved, con­struc­tion de­bris is dumped, lev­el­ling takes place and the land is ready for the con­struc­tion,” said Shabaad Patel, a real es­tate de­vel­oper and en­vi­ron­ment ac­tivist.

He said the rates for il­le­gal res­i­den­tial oc­cu­pancy dif­fer from com­mer­cial ones. “Ar­eas cat­e­gorised as com­mer­cial have higher land rates amount­ing to Rs25,000 to Rs28,000 per sft,” he said, adding that man­groves in the east­ern sub­urbs are bet­ter pro­tected be­cause the land be­longs to pri­vate agen­cies.

Ac­tivists said the builder lobby in con­nivance with lo­cal politi­cians have de­vised unique ways to ac­quire man­grove patches . “There have been cases in Lokhand­wala where mis­cre­ants have cut off the sup­ply of sea water to a man­grove patch, killing the trees. Then invasive species such as Gul­mo­har are grown on the plot so that au­thor­i­ties are con­fused about whether there were any man­groves at the site at all,” said Sumesh Lekhi, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist.

Of­fi­cials from the state man­grove cell con­firmed the de­mand for real es­tate played a ma­jor role. In the past six months, the cell is­sued no­tices to 1,500 il­le­gal shanties on wet­lands and con­fis­cated 10 ve­hi­cles, mostly ex­ca­va­tor ma­chines, used to de­stroy wet­land patches. Law-en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties said they are on the watch for en­croach­ers. “We have been us­ing satel­lite maps to check vi­o­la­tions. But max­i­mum vi­o­la­tions are be­ing ob­served in pri­vate ar­eas de­clared as for­est and rev­enue land,” said N Va­sude­van, chief con­ser­va­tor of for­est, state man­grove cell.

Dis­trict col­lec­torate of­fi­cials said of the 109 cases this year, 80% were re­lated to de­bris dump­ing and il­le­gal en­croach­ments and the re­main­ing were slash­ing or burn­ing of man­groves.

“Land prices are ex­tremely high and peo­ple are tak­ing risks by de­stroy­ing man­groves for max­i­mum profit,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial from the dis­trict col­lec­torate

“A three-fold ap­proach is be­ing used to tackle man­grove de­struc­tion cases. First, the cog­ni­sance and rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of a case is ob­served with the help of the man­grove cell. Sec­ond, we write to the civic body for re­moval of de­bris and lastly the landowner is di­rected to re­store the man­groves,” said Deep­en­dra Singh Kushwa, Mum­bai sub­ur­ban col­lec­tor. “While things will notchangeovernight,the­p­ro­cess is in place and the re­sults will

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