In a bid to clear “encroachment” from their land, CIDCO and the mangrove cell evicted personnel from two structures belonging to Shapoorji Pallonji & Co. Ltd. (SP group) in the notified “reserved forest” land near the Airoli bridge.
The mangrove cell will now build the western coast’s first Marine Interpretation Centre on that land belonging to the government, that was notified in 2007 owing to the presence of mangroves, but was occupied “illegally” for the past seven years.
Of the 111 hectare plot of survey no 308, 60.64 hectares has notified as ‘reserved’ forest and the rest of the land belongs to CIDCO.
The SP group had been given permission by the Maharashtra Maritime Board in 2002 to “create repair facilities of vessels and containers, handling dry bulk and liquid bulk, general cargo and warehouse facility through a jetty” at the site, for a period of five years.
The eviction notice to the group by the mangrove cell read, “The license from the MMB expired in 2007 and you have been occupying the plot without permission and illegally for the past seven years.”
In response to an early notice issued by the mangrove cell in February, the group’s vice president of liasion and approval had refuted the “claims” in a letter and stated that the company is in discussion with the MMB for extension of the license and the proposal is pending with the MMB. “Of the 111 hectares, our structures occupy just 50 acres,” the letter stated.
According to the Maharashtra Maritime Board, SP’s license had expired in 2007 and it has not renewed the license.
“The Airoli site was handed over by Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) to the company, under the agreement, for the purpose of repairing facilities of vessels etc. And we were following up with MMB for extension of period and appropriate permissions. In the meanwhile what transpired between forest department and MMB was not within our knowledge. We were requested by the forest department to hand over possession. Though we were dealing with MMB all along pursuant to the agreement between us, we were surprised by the demand of forest department. We reserve our right to pursue any legal recourse in the matter,” said the company spokesperson.
“We have evicted people occupying the structures and now mangrove centre will be set up at Airoli, said Praveen Pardeshi, principal secretary, forest department.
Visitors to the Airoli centre can take a boat-ride to the proposed wildlife sanctuary in Thane creek up to Vashi bridge to have an experience of marine birds and ecosystem.
There will be an open-air auditorium for students and visitors with an access to audio tours, models and photos on marine biodiversity at the interpretation centre.
The forest department will also arrange live displays of crab farming in small ponds near the interpretation centre. There will also be group walks through the 50 hectares of mangroves right up to the eastern edge of the Thane creek.