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9 years after HC order, state mangroves yet to get ‘reserve forests’ tag

With mangrove cell having no jurisdiction until mangrove areas on government land are notified and transferred to the forest department.

Written by Anjali Lukose | Mumbai |
October 8, 2014 4:08:53 am

Almost nine years after the Bombay high court ordered notification of mangroves on government land in the state for better protection, mangroves in Thane, Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts are yet to be notified as “reserved forest”. Moreover, groundtruthing in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts have reduced the proposed mangrove area in these districts to half. This, despite the fact that the earlier draft notifications sent by these districts were based on satellite maps and revenue records and were submitted as recent as 2012.

With mangrove cell having no jurisdiction until mangrove areas on government land are notified and transferred to the forest department, there has been little protection provided to mangroves in the state, both on private and government land. Rampant destruction of mangroves and wetlands in the city and Thane district was recently highlighted by court-ordered site visits.

Despite this, Thane collector P Velrasu seeks more time to notify the proposed 4,478 hectares of mangroves on government land in his district. He said, “Instruction has been given to complete (on ground) verification at the earliest and may take 3-4 months more.”

Last week, the state wetland committee, comprising principal secretaries of forest, environment and urban development department and the chief secretary, decided “to direct the collectors to call on the parties alleged to have destroyed mangroves and wetlands to seek their explanation”, according to chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya.

In Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts, it was proposed to notify 864 hectares and 2,289 hectares of mangroves on government land respectively. After groundtruthing, officials found only 487 hectares of mangroves in Sindhudurg and about 1,451 hectares in Ratnagiri. The Sindhurdurg proposal has been sent to konkan divisional commissioner, said revenue officials from the district.

Collectors blame errors in satellite maps for the stark difference in figures. Ratnagiri collector Radhakrishnan B said, “The 2,289 hectares were proposed earlier based on Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC) maps. On groundtruthing, we realised that wetlands and other greenery were also marked as mangrove areas, which is why there is such a difference now. We have even included mangroves in estuaries and beaches outside government property in the final proposal to ensure maximum protection to mangroves,” he said, not commenting on the revenue records that were also used to arrive at the earlier figures. Thane and Sindhudurg district officials had the same explanation.

Interestingly, the environment ministry’s forest report 2013 published in August, states that mangroves are spread over 18,600 hectares in the state, the same figure since 2005. “It is really surprising that groundtruthing reveals fewer mangroves. The initial figures were proposed by the district officials as late as 2012 based on revenue records.We need to confirm the figures once again in consultation with district authorities,”said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell.

So far, only mangroves on government land in Mumbai (3998 hectares) and Navi Mumbai (1471) and 3193 hectares in Raigad are notified, while proposal for notification of another 1000 hectares in Raigad is pending with konkan divisional commissioner since July.

“The only MRSAC maps available are wetland maps, but given their resolution of 1:50,000, they will not allow for precise identification of mangrove areas. The only other MRSAC map is the CRZ 2001 satellite map,” said Dilip Kolte, senior scientist, MRSAC.

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