Ideas and Action for a Better India
The issue of land status has always been a controversial issue in Mumbai, given vested interests and the paucity of land. Unclear land status would mean vague jurisdiction and easy manipulation. The marshland close the one of the biggest business districts of Mumbai — Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) is a gold mine waiting to be exploited. BKC was built over a lush mangrove forest, despite repeated warnings from organisations such as The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). The unabated reclamation has made the area extremely vulnerable to flooding. It is therefore imperative to not only salvage the last remaining mangroves in the area but also enhance and multiply them. However, the reverse is in action.
Observer Research Foundation is working on a research study on Maharashtra Nature Park as an extension to its Mithi River report. One of the key recommendations of the report is to create a mangrove park outside the park in the Mahim Creek area. The mangrove park will not only bring the highly susceptible mangroves under protection but will also allow the people of Mumbai and tourists to enjoy beautiful wildlife spectacles within city limits. Through this activity ORF aims to not only create a place for recreation for the nature starved residents of the city but also help in creating awareness about the importance and conservation of mangrove ecosystems.
In order to make this recommendation the ORF team had to run from pillar to post get the exact status of the land. According to several reports the Mahim Creek area was declared as a protected area. The said area is rich in biodiversity with a complex ecosystem. Most people including the Deputy Director of Maharashtra Nature Park, environmentalists, and even the forest department were oblivious to the status of this land. On further investigation the ORF team came across some old documents from the WWF India which clearly states that the said land was declared as a protected area under the Forest (Conservation) Act in 1990, this makes the Mahim Creek marshland fall under the purview of the forest department. The forest department was clueless about its existence. The team met with the Deputy Conservator of Forest — Mr G T Chauvan, he shared a map with the team and said that the land did not belong to the forest department. He was not even aware of its existence.
The Forest (Conservation) Act was enacted to provide a higher level of protection to the forests and to regulate diversion of forest lands for non forestry purposes. The Act is an interface between conservation and development. Prior approval of the Central Government is essential for de-reservation of forest lands and / or diversion of forestlands for non-forestry purposes. Intentional or non intentional the complete ignorance on the part of the forest department is appalling. Such ambiguity will make for easy manipulation and violation of the law and allow for divergence of land for non ecological purposes.