Save Panje wetland, give it Ramsar status: environmentalists

Pond in Maharashtra faces brunt of developmental activities, activists call for check against violations by govt agencies

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Geetanjali Minhas | February 19, 2020 | Mumbai


#CIDCO   #Aaditya Thackeray   #Mumbai   #Maharashta   #Development   #Environment   #JNPT   #MMR   #NMSEZ  
Panje wetland goes dry on and off as water flow is blocked by vested interests. (Photo courtesy: BN Kumar, NatConnect Foundation)
Panje wetland goes dry on and off as water flow is blocked by vested interests. (Photo courtesy: BN Kumar, NatConnect Foundation)

To protect the fast depleting wetlands against being used as landfill and for development activities in Mumbai metropolitan region (MMR), environmentalists have asked the centre to declare the 289-hectare Panje wetlands in Uran tehsil of Raigarh district as a ‘Ramsar site’ and preserve its ecological character.

The Panje wetland has hundreds of varieties of native and migratory birds and been declared as the holding pond, a flood controlled mechanism, for the upcoming Dronagiri node by City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (CIDCO). Yet it has also earmarked it for real estate development as part of Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ).

“There has been a wanton destruction of mangroves and wetlands all across Mumbai metropolitan region (MMR) in the ecologically sensitive Uran by project proponents like NMSEZ, Jawahar Lal Nehru Port Trust Special Economic Zone (JNPT SEZ), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and others. Vast stretches of wetlands and over 20,000 mangroves have been destroyed at the fourth JNPT container terminal, NH-348 (near Punjab warehouses CFS) and NMSEZ sites by illegal landfill. As many as 20 out of the 27 villages were submerged in waters last monsoon and NMSEZ projects across 1,250 hectares should be immediately stopped,” said Nandkumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan.

BN Kumar, director, NatConnect Foundation, said that the JNPT was fined last year for causing death of 4,500 mangroves, but it continues to destroy the sea plant for expansion of the fourth container terminal. “MCZMA clearly mandates that mangroves should not be harmed. The allegations must be probed and if proved correct the environmental clearances must be revoked by the authority,” said Kumar. 

Pawar also said that replied received to their RTI queries have proved that NMSEZ or its contractors have not taken any permission or paid royalty for digging hills for transporting hundreds of truckload of soil. “At Panje, NMSEZ has illegally constructed massive wall around more than 500 acres and even prevented entry of bird watchers and fishermen,” he said. 

Sunil Agarwal of Save Navi Mumbai Environment said that the state’s environment minister Aditya Thackeray recently asking CIDCO to protect Talawe pond as a bird sanctuary is a major step towards protecting biodiversity in Navi Mumbai.

Alarmed at the recent findings of Wetlands International South Asia that Mumbai has lost a maximum 71 percent of wetlands between 1970 and 2014, environmentalists said that MMRDA’s plan to build housing complexes in the salt pan area are disastrous and an invitation to crisis. They have asked the environment minister to revive the River Regulatory Zone to save rivers and prevent recurring floods.

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