July 31, 2021 8:43:37 pm
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), which is facing financial crisis due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, is yet to get nearly Rs 176 crore from various builders as mitigation funds that they are supposed to pay as per National Wildlife Board directives.
When the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) sanctions a project in the eco sensitive zone of the SGNP or any other protected area, two per cent of the project cost has to be given to a mitigation funds. This fund is used for the park’s activities. Earlier the eco sensitive zone of the SGNP was 10 km from the boundary of the park. However, after many builders and developers claimed that the redevelopment of many structures was getting hampered, in 2016, the government reduced the eco sensitive zone limits to up to 4 km from the park boundary.
As per information procured through a Right to Information plea by The Indian Express, the park is yet to receive the desired funds from 26 projects. This includes Rs 22 crore from four projects in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Rs 103.26 crore from 14 projects in the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC), Rs 35.56 crore from five projects in the Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC), Rs 4.08 crore from two projects in the Mira Bhayander (MBMC) Municipal Corporation and Rs 12 crore from one project in the Bhiwandi –Nizampur Municipal Corporation (BNMC).
The highest sum is pending from Dosti Enterprises Private Limited for a project at Balkum in Thane, which owes the park Rs 39.12 crore. Their proposal was passed by the NBWL on February 26, 2016, and the project cost was Rs 1,956 crore.
While the SGNP has said the developer owes them money, the builder has, however, contested these charges. “The ESZ provision isn’t applicable to us. We have explained it to the government,” Deepak Goradia, owner of Dost Enterprises Private Limited, said.
The SGNP is one of the national parks in the world, which is inside a metropolitan city. Spread over 103 square km, it is home to some rare flora and fauna found in the state. The SGNP’s southern boundary touches Goregaon and Malad, and the eastern boundary extends to Bhandup and Thane. The northern boundary stretches to Tungareshwar.
Each year, the government allocates Rs 15 crore for salaries and other administrative set up of the park. The park, meanwhile, generates its own revenue of around Rs 10 to 12 crore each year through entry tickets for visitors. However, due to Covid-19, this revenue source has dried up. In 2020, the park could earn only Rs 3.5 crore from sale of tickets. For 2021, the revenues are expected to be lower as it has been closed due to restrictions imposed for he pandemic’s second wave.
Mitigation funds are another source of revenue for the park. SGNP Director G Mallikarjun said they have earned Rs 40 crore by way of mitigation funds so far, and this money along with earnings from the entertainment zone, is required to pay wages to the forest labourers, fight forest fires, ensure plantation and maintain tourism facilities and eco-conservation activities.
With the sources of income drying up, the park began looking for sources of revenue. Recently, when the forest department was asked by the finance department to look for more sources of revenue, they realised that nearly Rs 176 crore is due to them under these mitigation funds.
In order to recover this money, the SGNP director has now informed the municipal commissioners of the BMC, TMC, VVMC, BNMC and MBMC to stop giving occupation certificates to builders who owe the park money. While in some cases, projects are completed, in the rest, they are yet to start and builders have only taken clearances.
Mallikarjun said he was hopeful that the state would create a system whereby builders would be given occupation certificates for their projects only when they clear their dues to the SGNP. Most builders circumvent the rule for paying up for old projects by forming a new company for each project when they approach the NBWL for clearance.
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