Conservation Conversations

DEBI GOENKA – MUMBAI FLOODING SITUATION TO WORSEN DUE TO CONTINUING RECLAMATION AND DESTRUCTION OF MANGROVES

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GREEN MINUTE NEWS:

Debi Goenka is an environmentalist who started as a volunteer with WWF and BNHS in his younger days. Later, he worked with WWF-India, then was elected to Executive Committee of BNHS a number of terms and has also been associated with various other NGOs. 

Some of his notable success stories have been protection of Mangroves, Borivili National Park, Mumbai, and protecting over 3,500 square kilometres of forests in Vidarbha from denotification. He has been largely responsible for CRZ Notification, 1991 as also protection of Mahableshwar-Panchgani, Matheran and the Kaziranga ESZ (Numaligarh refinery).

Q1. Mumbai flooding and heavy rains have become an annual phenomenon. Will this continue and become worse in the coming years?

The situation will only worsen due to climate change and rise in sea level. The frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events is likely to increase. Rising sea levels will make it more difficult to stop sea water ingress into the city as also pump out sewage water into the sea during high tides. 

FLOODED STREETS IN MUMBAI ARE NOW A COMMON OCCURRENCE

Everyone is aware of Climate Change but it is sad that these factors are not considered while taking ecologically unsustainable decisions like the Coastal Road project costing Rs 13,000 crore or the new International Airport at Navi Mumbai.

Q 2. Elaborate on the reasons for Mumbai’s problems?

Over many centuries, Mumbai city has expanded by reclamation. Recently, reclamation was carried out in parts of Colaba and Cuffe Parade and in the Bandra Kurla Complex as also in Malad Creek and Kanjur Marg in the suburbs. 

Over 60 hectares of land has now been reclaimed for the Coastal Road project. 

This year, due to reclamation for the Coastal Road project, buildings along the coastline were flooded. The natural drainage has been blocked while no new drainage has been provided. The low-lying areas in Mumbai – Parel, Kings Circle, Kurla, Matunga gets flooded year after year.

Q 3. In this background, cite the destruction of natural barriers like mangroves and explain.

Mangroves provide protection against extreme climatic events such as cyclones and tsunamis and also sequester much more carbon than any other ecosystem. 

Two of the largest areas that have seen large scale destruction of mangroves in the country are: along Malad creek in Mumbai and Mundra in Gujarat. 

Mangroves which are specialised tree species grow naturally in the inter tidal zone between the High Tide Line and the Low Tide Line. They are specially adapted to grow in saline areas. 

Mangroves are extremely important as they provide oxygen to breathe and clean the pollutants in the water and also absorb heavy metals. Further, they provide nutrients to fish, prawns, lobsters and other marine life and maintain the link in the food chain. 

Flamingos in Thane Creek, Mumbai

Q4. What are the challenges you have faced in Mangrove conservation?

The largest number of applications being made for the destruction of mangroves in Maharashtra now comes from Government agencies and Planning Authorities such as the Municipal Corporations. 

Unfortunately, agencies that should be protecting mangroves seem to be hell bent on destroying them. 

Despite, the great wealth of knowledge about mangroves, decision makers still operate under the assumption that garbage dumps and transmission lines are more important than mangroves. 

Mangroves being destroyed at Kanjur Marg, Mumbai for a Garbage Dump 

Q 5. What are the immediate and future threats that Mangroves face? 

Mangroves have traditionally been treated as wastelands in India. So, extensive destruction has been caused by reclamation for housing, industries, salt pans, and even for garbage dumps. 

Despite legal protection existing since 1991, our mangroves are still being subjected to destruction under the guise of “development” for infrastructure projects

Further, decision makers have not realised that by destroying mangroves, we are destroying the natural infrastructure that protects us and enhances livelihoods and quality of our life free of cost. Replacing it with linear structures built at sky-high costs will enable a handful of people to make excessive profits at the cost of citizens.

THE RAMPANT DESTRUCTION OF MANGROVES IN MUMBAI

Q6. What is the area of Mangrove forests in India and the world? 

Mangroves grow extensively on both the east and west coasts and also in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. So, the mangrove cover in India is about 5,000 sq kms while worldwide, they are across 1.5 lakh sq kms.

Q7. What’s your take on policy interventions on mangrove conservation? Any drawbacks and your suggestions. 

Whilst the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change agreed that the protection of mangroves was vital and classified mangroves as “ecologically sensitive species” in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification (dated 19.2.1991), mangroves still continue to be destroyed. In 2004, we filed a case in the Bombay High Court (HC) to ensure protection for mangroves and the law was enforced. After the High Court orders, the Maharashtra Government set up a dedicated cell in 2012 to protect mangroves. This offered some field protection to mangroves in addition to protection under CRZ notification and the HC Order.

THE STATUS OF MANGROVES ALONG VASAI CREEK

In addition, as per the HC order, all state-owned mangrove areas were to be handed over to the Forest Department and notified as Reserve Forests. A High-Power Committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Konkan Divisional Commissioner (the administrative head of all coastal districts in Maharashtra) which included DCs, SPs, forest officers and NGOs to implement court orders. A mechanism for satellite monitoring of mangroves was also put in place by the HC.

Q8. Can you elaborate on Mangrove conservation in India and its effects? 

Most State Governments do not have the same kind of mechanism that Maharashtra has to protect the mangroves on the ground. We need all the coastal states and the Union Territories to ensure mangrove areas are transferred to the Forest Department who can create a mangrove cell. This is to ensure mangroves are protected on ground.

Bhittarkanika Mangroves – Greatest Mangrove Diversity in the World! 

Q9. If mangrove forests are wiped out……? 

The destruction of mangrove forests will lead to 

  • Loss of livelihood for fisher folk 
  • Huge emissions of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere 
  • Loss of natural protection against extreme climatic events – cyclones, storm surges and tsunamis 
  • Increased flooding and erosion along other parts of the coast

(IN CONVERSATION WITH R S TEJUS)

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