The Maharashtra government, on Tuesday, notified around 1,388 ha in Thane as reserved forest land under section 4 of the Indian Forest Act (IFA), 1927. 1,575 ha of mangrove areas in Raigad, Sindhudurg, Thane and suburban Mumbai will be handed over to the Forest Department for better conservation under section 20 of IFA, 1927.
With this, the total reserved forest area in Maharashtra reached 16,700 ha.
In a gazette notification issued on Tuesday, the state Revenue and Forest Departments announced that 1,387.39 ha of mangrove land across 14 villages in Thane has now been declared as a reserved forest area. Meanwhile, in another notification, the state has also notified 1,575.16 ha of mangrove land along the Maharashtra coast, which is likely to be handed over to the Forest Department for better conservation almost 16 years after the Bombay High Court directed the government to do so.
The protected forest areas under Section 20 of the Indian Forests Act include those in Sawantwadi, Vengurla, Kudal, Malvan and Devgad talukas of Sindhudurg, Shrivardhan of Raigad and Kandivali, Dahisar, Eksar, Gorai, Varsova, Bandra and Juhu of Mumbai suburban, apart from 32 villages in Bhiwandi. Those in Thane district include villages such as Chendani, Mumbra, Mhatradi, Sonkar, Diva, Kalshet, Balkum, Kalwa, Parsik, Ghudbunder, Uttan, Bhayandar, and Morava. With this, the total reserved forest area in Maharashtra reached 16,700 ha.
In 2005, in an interim order, the HC had said that all mangrove areas on government land were to be handed over to the Forest Department. The HC reiterated its order on September 18, 2018. However, district bodies are yet to hand over 1,592.8 ha and state agencies, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), have failed to transfer approximately 1,147 ha falling under their jurisdiction to the department.
“The mangrove red-tapism is shocking to say the least,” said BN Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation. Amidst this official lethargy, he said, the destruction of mangroves has assumed serious proportions in Uran in the execution of projects by NHAI and JNPT despite the state wildlife board declaring Sonneratia Alba, a mangrove tree, as the state tree.
“City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) officials said that the files regarding mangrove zone measurement are lying with the Planning Department even as the burial of mangroves is in progress at a rapid pace with the expansion of NH348 and construction by JNPT,” Kumar said.
In December, last year, an environment group issued contempt notices to all Konkan district collectors, the Konkan divisional commissioner and JNPT for failing to hand over mangrove land under their jurisdiction to the Forest Department. Last week, Vanashakti, an environmental NGO, filed a petition in the HC, seeking immediate transfer of all mangrove lands to the Forest Department.
“I am happy to say that we have so far added 6,500 ha mangrove area to the reserved forest land under section 20 of IFA, 1927, in less than a year. By June, we expect that it will increase to 10,000 ha,” state Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray tweeted on Thursday.