A LEGAL bid challenging the rampant destruction of wetlands in the country’s financial capital has forced the Maharashtra government to shore up efforts to prevent destruction of the wetlands, following a recent order of the Bombay High Court.
The government has now formed a dedicated grievance redressal forum for plaints against destruction of these ecologically sensitive belts in Mumbai and the Mumbai suburban districts.
The forum, which the government has referred to as the high-level monitoring committee, will be headed by the Konkan Divisional Commissioner, who is a senior IAS officer. It will also comprise the Collectors of the two districts, the the Chief Conservator of Forests (Mangrove Cell), the Divisional Forest Officer (Mangrove Conservation), representatives nominated by the Mumbai police commissioner, the Mumbai municipality, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, an environmental activist, and an expert/NGO nominated by the divisional commissioner, as members.
The state’s forest department issued orders regarding the committee’s constitution on October 13. Besides hearing plaints against mangrove destruction, the forum would also be responsible for taking proactive steps for preserving the wetlands.
Earlier on August 3, a division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice A A Sayyed had rapped the state government over complaints of rampant destruction of mangroves in the two Mumbai districts. Issuing interim orders over a petition in this regard, the Court had said, “We direct the state government to constitute a committee for the Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts for implementation of various orders passed by this court (in PIL No. 218/2013). Senior officers of various planning authorities in these districts, senior police officials, responsible officers from the Collectorate in the two districts apart from experts in the field will be part of the Committee.”
Acting on the Court’s missive, the government has said the forum would be responsible for acting on complaints received against mangrove destruction and uploading action taken reports. It would also have to ensure that restoration measures are undertaken in the destructed area.
The committee, which will meet at least once a month, would also be responsible to ensure that orders issued by the Courts, from time to time, regarding mangrove protection are complied with. Further, it would be responsible for coordination between various planning agencies including ruling over matters of jurisdiction, and spreading awareness regarding mangrove conservation.
Environmental activist Reji Abraham, President, United Association for Social Educational and Public Welfare Trust, on whose petition the court had issued orders, welcomed the step. “The presence of senior officials and all stakeholders on the forum raises hope that the committee’s functioning would be effective. The Court has asked the committee to submit an action taken report every six months,” he said. The government has nominated Abraham himself as a non-officio member on the committee. The Court had issued a similar order for Navi Mumbai in 2015.