The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has told the Maharashtra government that public toilets built on mangrove land do attract provisions of the Forest Act, and will have to be demolished. The clarification from the ministry comes following the demolition of a community toilet constructed earlier this year through the local area development funds of BJP MP Gopal Shetty.
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One more toilet construction was halted last week after it was found that the public toilet being constructed by the local municipal ward office in Kandivali under the government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was actually encroaching mangrove land.
The forest department along with the police and civic officials have evicted nearly 300 encroachments in the areas of Chikuwadi and Shankarwadi in Borivli on March 14 and 15 this year.
After the demolitions were carried out, Mumbai North’s Lok Sabha representative Gopal Shetty told Forest officials that construction of a community toilet in Chikuwadi was not illegal. “At the time, Shetty had produced a circular from the Urban Development department of the state government dated June 15, 2015 stating that a No Objection Certificate (NOC) is not required for the construction of community toilets on any land including forest areas,” said a government official.
The Mangrove Cell of the state government sought a clarification from the the state’s Revenue and Forest department on the UD circular. On April 5 this year, the Revenue and Forest department clarified that “for any non forestry activities on forest land, the Forest Conservation Act (1980) shall be applicable and the prior permission of Government of India is necessary.”
Subsequently, the state government in a letter dated May 25, 2016 sought further clarification from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on whether provisions of the Forest Conservation Act are attracted or not while constructing community toilets on forest land.
The MoEFCC officially responded to the state on September 30. The clarification, undersigned by the Assistant Inspector General of Forests, stated, “It is clarified that provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, are attracted while construction of community toilets on forest land.”
The clarification was sent to the state’s Principal Secretary (Forests) on October 21. Officials claim that since 2013, over 3,500 illegal shanties have been evicted from mangrove areas.