October 21, 2021 12:34:57 am
OVER 30 years after they were created to prevent flooding in the satellite city of Mumbai, the rejuvenation and desilting of 11 holding ponds and clearing them of mangroves continues to be delayed.
While the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has formed a committee to study the impact of desilting of holding ponds on mangroves, the final demarcation of the 48 sq km eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary has also not paved the way for the desilting, as it involves felling of mangroves.
Virendra Tiwari, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Mangrove Cell) said, “In a eco-sensitive zone, removal of silt is a regulated activity. But since it may damage mangroves in the ponds, permission of the Bombay High Court is required and even norms under the Forest Conservation Act have to be followed.”
The civic body of Navi Mumbai, where the 11 ponds are located, has proposed desilting of ponds up to 0.3 to 0.5 mm and removal of 11 hectare of mangroves covering the ponds. The restoration work includes installation of silt traps at the nullahs coming from the creeks to avoid silt accumulation and growth of mangroves in future.
According to a 2005 HC order issued in response to a petition filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group in 2004, all construction and removal of mangrove areas require direct permission from the HC.
Additionally, in response to the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation in June, the MCZMA had deferred the matter. The MCZMA has directed a sub-committee to inspect the sites along with the state mangrove cell to understand the impact of desilting of holding ponds on mangroves/mudflat ecosystem and submit a report for further discussion.
While developing Navi Mumbai city, City and Industrial Development Corporation had constructed 11 holding ponds near the creek to avoid waterlogging. As the city is located below sea level, during high tide in Vashi creek and amid heavy rainfall, the excess water naturally flows into the holding ponds, preventing flooding. As the high tide recedes, the collected water is released back into the creek.
The 11 holding ponds are in Belapur, Vashi, Turbhe, Koparkhairaine and Airoli sectors. These act as a buffer between the storm water drain and the creek and holds excess rain water when it cannot be released into the creek.
However, over the years, the ponds have not been cleaned, resulting in excess silt leading to mangrove growth, reducing their holding capacity.
Taking note that the proposal aims to improve the storm water drainage system of the city, but also involves damage to mangrove ecosystem, the MCZMA stated, “Considering climate change induced sea level rise phenomenon and recurrent cyclonic situations, role of mangroves have even become more crucial to safeguard the coastal areas. It is imperative to find golden mean between protection of mangroves vegetation in order to safeguard the coastline and protect the city from the flooding by improving storm water drain system.”
The sub-committee comprising three members of the MCZMA will examine the NMMC reports on the city’s storm water drainage system and hydrodynamic flow patterns.
The desilting of all the 11 holding ponds has hit a court bump for the last 10 years, but corporators also hold the NMMC responsible for the lackadaisical approach. The NMMC has been unable to take up cleaning of these ponds due to growth of mangroves. A host of public interest litigations have been filed in the HC. Last year, the HC had issued a notice to NMMC on cleaning of the ponds, following a PIL filed by former corporator Dr Jayaji Nath. Following this, the NMMC had approached MCZMA and submitted a proposal of rejuvenation of storm water drain and holding ponds.
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