A nearly 1,000 hectare stretch of mangroves alongside the Eastern Express Highway, between Kanjurmarg and Mulund, is patrolled by 40 volunteers on a daily basis. Initiated by Nandkumar Pawar (53) a resident of Bhandup village and member of the fishermen’s community, he first decided to take up the issue of mangroves in 2005, when he realised the extent of the danger that they were in.
His motivation stemmed from the massive loss of life and damage to property caused by the floods of July 26, 2005 and the realisation that the chopping of mangroves is one of the contributing factors to flooding.
“I’m a fisherman and I have grown up realising the importance of mangroves for breeding of fish as well as for cleaning the air, which is polluted due to so many factors today,” said Pawar.
In 2005, Pawar, along with several volunteers, established Ekvira Foundation and started patrolling the mangroves daily. Soon, they started spotting people who would sneak inside to hunt birds or to collect firewood and hand them over to the forest department or the police.
“Once I chanced upon a demolition vehicle trying to clear out a section of the mangroves and immediately raised an alarm. The people fled leaving the vehicle there and it was then seized by the police. The same people later tried to discredit me in court, alleging that I was from a suspicious background and could not be trusted. The court ruled that it was their actions and not my character that was in question,” Pawar recalls. His victory gained him more volunteers for his civilian patrol.
Pawar continues to organise cleaning camps in the mangroves every year and holds awareness camps in the fishermen’s villages regularly in order to reinforce the importance of mangroves.
“Apart from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, these mangroves are the only major chunk of greenery that help purify the air. If we don’t fight to preserve them, what kind of quality of life are we passing on to future generations?” says Pawar.