Salt pans, mangroves to go as Centre plans expansion: Mumbai’s Degradation

Projects announced to keep popularity of Centre intact

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The state’s coastal authority on October 24 has said that the most optimal alignment of the proposed bridge between Gorai Island and Borivli will require 5,619 mangrove trees across 2.8 hectares (ha) to be cut, the Hindustan Times reported.

Earlier, in the run-up to the assembly elections, it announced that it was considering the opening up of Mumbai’s ecologically sensitive salt pans for the development of low-cost housing.

In February this year, the Bombay High Court allowed Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) the cutting of more than 1,500 mangroves for the construction of the Versova-Bandra sea link. A public interest litigation had alleged that MSRDC is dumping mud and reclaiming the sandy beach illegally.

These announcements come in just after the illegal and unfortunate felling of over 2,000 trees at Aarey for the Mumbai Metro shed.

While the government says that the new Gorai- Borivali bridge will cut travel time in half and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) says that it will plant five times the number of mangroves lost, local activist Lourdes D’souza, secretary, Dharavi Beth BachaoSamiti said that no less than 40,000 mangrove trees will be lost due to the widening and elevating of roads.

The construction of the bridge was first proposed in 2005 and since then locals from eight villages have filed over 60,000 objections alleging that their paddy farms, water bodies and fishing zones will be reclaimed.

With regards to salt pans, as Mumbai is always land-starved, affordable housing projects on these land parcels have been green-lit by the Centre and have been put in the concurrent list of India. This gives the state the power to make its own laws for the use and development of salt pans. Prior to this, the jurisdiction of salt pans fell under the union commerce and industry ministry, with the state government not having any authority over them.

Why salt pans and mangroves are sacred

Salt pans act as natural barriers to prevent flooding in Mumbai. Along with the mangroves, they hold seawater from entering the city.

As per the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2011, salt pans are ecologically sensitive areas falling under the category CRZ-1B, where no development activity is allowed, except exploration of natural gas and extraction of salts.

Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust, another NGO working for environmental causes, said the move will be disastrous for the city. “Currently, salt pan lands are protected under coastal regulation zone [CRZ] rules. The wetlands play an important role in securing the city from floods. If the government opens them for development, it will prove disastrous for the city as sea levels are already rising because of climate change and the last thing one wants is to destroy the city’s natural defence,” Goenka said.

Mumbai’s salt pans are a natural buffer to India’s financial capital against high tides and heavy rains.

Mangrove forests are home to several species of plants, animals and marine life. They act as a natural barrier against floods, protect the shoreline from soil erosion, and absorb almost eight times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other ecosystem.

Today, Mumbai is only left with 35 and 45 square kilometers of mangrove forests. Almost 70% has been destroyed in reclamation projects by dumping garbage into intertidal areas thereby upsetting the salinity of the seawater and choking off mangrove tree roots, said Goenka, who has been fighting to protect mangroves in Mumbai since the 1980s.

Naturally, it’s politics

While ally Shiv Sena has vehemently opposed the usage of salt pans for development, the BJP government revised the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules in 2017. This and the Mumbai Development Plan (DP) – 2034 are in line with the Prime Minister’s Housing Scheme to construct a million affordable housing units.

According to the final draft of the DP 2034, 2,100 hectares of salt pan lands have been demarcated for affordable housing, 1,100 hectares for tourism and only 30 hectares for salt pans.

Fortunately, an un-plying ally and strong activists have still prevented the BJP from having its say. Also, despite the Wetlands rules revision, salt pans are still protected under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules and this national law cannot be over ruled by the state.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the Centre has also cleared 125 projects on forest land in J&K.

Post 370 Abrogation, August 5, the Forest Advisory Committee of J & K has cleared 125 projects on forest land
AareyAdivasis Pray, Mourn & Remember
AareyAdivasis seek forgiveness from felled trees
Kandla Port Trust activities ‘destroyed’ mangroves, affecting rare camel species: NGT



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