During the wetland grievance redressal committee meeting on Thursday, chairman of the committee, directed Cidco to keep the sluice gates at Panje open till May 2019.
The City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) opened 70 of the 76 sluice gates to revive the dying 237-hectare Panje wetlands in Uran, Navi Mumbai. The move comes after environmentalists and citizen groups had complained to the state mangrove cell that the closed sluice gates in a flood-protection barrier were stopping the flow of tide water into the wetlands. Cidco, the planning agency for Navi Mumbai, said since monsoon is over, there are no worries about flooding.
“As per directions from our vice chairman and managing director, Lokesh Chandra on Wednesday, our engineering team opened 70 gates, allowing tidal water flow to Panje wetlands from Thursday morning onwards,” said Pramod Patil, nodal officer, environment and forest, Cidco.
During the wetland grievance redressal committee meeting on Thursday, Konkan commissioner Jagdish Patil, chairman of the committee, directed Cidco to keep the sluice gates at Panje open till May 2019.
“Cidco raised concerns about flooding of nearby villages. We have asked them to monitor the situation carefully. If need be, the villagers with their consent can be relocated. As of now, the gates have to remain open for the safety of the wetlands,” said Patil.
Cidco said they follow directions of the HC committee.
The barrier was built in the year 1991 with help from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay as a flood control mechanism. It shuts automatically during high tide and opens up during low tide, remaining closed throughout the months of monsoon. However, in the last week of September, some gates were damaged and the barrier was shut down, starving water supply into the mangroves.
HT has been reporting how the wetlands had partially dried up after high tide water was blocked on September 28, following which Navi Mumbai residents and environmentalists filed a complaint with the state. On October 6, Cidco had opened 10 of 76 gates. But environmentalists said it was insufficient to restore the wetland.
Environment group Vanashakti decided to file a contempt petition, and the matter was to be heard by the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed grievance redressal committee on Thursday, but Cidco acted a day prior to the meeting. “Cidco has shown sensitivity as they realised they were breaking the law,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.
Documentary film maker Aishwarya Sridhar, who had photographed the changes in the wetland between May and October, said the plan by Cidco to open the sluice gates was a victory. “If there are flooding concerns at nearby villages, Cidco needs to find remedial measures to stop it at those villages but they cannot cut off all water to a wetland site using that logic,” she said.
Nandkumar Pawar, the environmentalist who had filed the first complaint, said that the citizens highlighted the issue at the right time to stop the wetland destruction. “Using flood control mechanism, Cidco is trying to drain out such areas and sell them to private developers for housing projects,” he said.
In 2014, the Bombay high court had banned reclamation and construction on wetlands after environment groups filed a petition to protect them.
Environmentalists said that Cidco had violated the wetlands conservation rules. “The wetland is now partially protected but it is a disgrace that a government organisation cannot follow the law on its own and citizens have to take matters in their own hands. Cidco needs to be prosecuted,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust.
Others said that the development agencies should not be allowed to do development work in natural areas. “They cannot play around with the flow of water for pristine wetlands and bird havens. We need to act quickly to get it declared as a protected area,” said Sunjoy Monga, ornithologist and naturalist writer.
•September 28: Navi Mumbai residents and environmentalists file first complaint with the state, alleging Cidco has shut tide water flow in the wetlands by blocking 76 gates at Panje wetlands in Uran, Navi Mumbai. Documentary film-maker Aishwarya Sridhar states the wetland may dry up if high tide water is not restored
•October 2: Cidco states repair work for the gates is being carried out and new gates are being installed
•October 3: After four days of inaction, environmentalists Debi Goenka and Sunjoy Monga approach the state mangrove cell which wrote to to Cidco, telling them the area has mangroves and holding ponds and that tide water flow cannot be restricted.
•October 4: Bombay Natural History Society asks the state to dismantle the sluice gates to conserve the Panje wetlands.
•October 6: Cidco allows tidal water ingress to the Panje wetlands by opening 10 of 76 outlets. However, environmentalists say it is not enough to guarantee adequate water flow to the wetland site.
•October 7: Sridhar visits the site to find the wetland has dried up. Local villagers say there are no flooding concerns except a few isolated areas that have knee-deep water during the monsoon
•October 8: Vanashakti decides to file a contempt petition against Cidco under its original petition to safeguard wetlands in Maharashtra.
•October 10: A day before the Bombay High Court appointed wetland grievance redressal committee was to hear the matter, Cidco vice chairman and managing director, Lokesh Chandra directs his engineering team open majority of the gates at Panje.
•October 11: Of 76 gates, 70 opened by Cidco, and the wetland, mangroves and holding pond area partially restored.
Seasonal variation for the number of migratory birds spotted at Panje every year
•Summer – 10,000
•Monsoon – 40,000
•Early Winter – 80,000
•Late Winter – 1,40,012
Wetlands matter because
They act as a buffer zone between the land and sea
Biggest carbon sink, larger than Amazonian rain forests
Protect land from wave erosion.