Even as 2017’s Forest Survey of India (FSI) report revealed that Maharashtra’s mangrove cover increased by 82 sq km, activists have raised concerns over the destruction of mangroves in areas that are not under the jurisdiction of the forest department. “While the efforts of the Mangrove Cell in conserving mangroves are worth mentioning, the report does not mention if the increase is in forest land or other private land. If the report mentions separate figures for both, we will get a clear picture. The destruction will never happen in forest land, due to strict laws and continuous monitoring. It is mostly happening in revenue land,” said Harish Pandey, who has been fighting for the protection of mangroves in the Dahisar belt.
Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust (CAT), agreed. “According to the October 2005 High Court order, all government land should be notified as protected and handed over to the forest department, but it has still not been done so far. Land with different government agencies such as CIDCO, MMRDA, and so on, have still not been handed over as there are different proposals for them. The forest department has also not been active in demanding it back,” he said.
N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state Mangrove Cell, said that around 80 per cent of the land had been returned. “Out of 16,088 hectares, 12,263 hectares have been handed over to the forest department. The remaining area will also be handed over soon. There are a few pockets where mangroves are being destroyed, but it forms around 0.1 to 0.2 sq km in area, and here we are speaking about 82 sq km increase,” he said.
In cases of destruction of mangroves in revenue land, the complaints are routed through the district collector, and action takes much longer than if it was done through the forest department. “The forest department is monitoring the area 24 hours, 365 days. The revenue department is not able to do that. The stringent laws on forest land should be implemented by them as well. If you wish to create a deterrent, then the law needs to be amended and it has to become a cognisable offence so that the police can take suo moto action. There cannot be two different parametres for different departments when the mangroves are serving the same purpose to mankind,” said Pandey.
“The increase could be due to proper protection or due to compensatory afforestation for development projects. If it is due to the latter, then it is dangerous, as that would mean that some areas lost mangroves and others gained,” he added.
“In 1995, we had 340 sq km of mangrove cover in Maharashtra. So, obviously, it has come down over the years. After the HC order, the Mangrove Cell was created and their protection is clearly working. While 90 per cent of the damage that would have happened has been prevented by the order, we should now aim to get back to 340 sq km,” said Goenka.
The FSI report, released on Monday, revealed that Maharashtra witnessed the highest increase in mangrove cover in the country. The mangrove cover in the state has grown by 82 sq km, marking a 37 per cent increase since the last survey in 2015.