The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) seems to have washed its hands of taking action against alleged mangrove destruction by Esselworld at Gorai by informing the Bombay High Court (HC) on Monday that the Board did not have the requisite expertise regarding mangroves. This, despite filing an FIR against Essel Infra Project Pan India in June for the alleged violations under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) on the collector’s order.
In its affidavit, the Board pointed out that the forest department’s mangrove cell was constituted to take cognisance of complaints regarding mangrove destruction. The cell had observed mangrove destruction at Gorai based on their visit in May. In April, the court had directed the suburban collector to take action against the amusement park for reclamation of wetland and destruction of mangroves.
On May 13, a visit by the forest department found systematic destruction of mangroves. On the 13-acre plot where work on a garden cell is on at present, mangroves had been destroyed and a stone bund was built around it. S N Mali, divisional forest officer, mangrove cell, had said, “The land, according to previous satellite images, showed mangrove vegetation and wetlands. We have seen breathing roots and stumps on the site, which had holes on the ground where the mangrove plants were uprooted”.
The department report had no mention of the 30-acre mangrove park at the site. MPCB officials who visited the Gorai plot on May 7 found ‘green grass squares and nursery plantation’. “Essel World has provided green net boundary to the same and have made 30-acre mangrove park with nursery,” the MPCB affidavit stated.
“The 30-acre mangrove park was started in 2005 as mandated by an environment clearance from the environment department,” said R P Tyagi, V-P, Essel group. “Mangrove destruction has been done by someone else as the (garden lawn) area was only covered by a green net,” he added.
An MPCB official said, “The day our officials visited the Gorai site, they did not notice any destruction of mangroves, hence we did not comment on it in the report. The notification on the creation of Mangrove Protection Cell states that all mangroves in the state are under the mangrove cell’s jurisdiction so taking action against any violations is their job.”
However, violation of private mangrove forests like the Essel World plot fall under the purview of CRZ notification 2011 issued under the provisions of the EPA, which is administered by the environment department and collector. Moreover, a recent letter issued by the suburban collector stated that officials from MPCB and revenue department could initiate action against violations on private land, while mangrove cell officials would confirm the presence of mangroves.
“Unfortunately, the mangrove cell is not empowered to take cognisance of violations under EPA. But other authorities can take action,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell.