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Destruction of mangroves affects right to life: Bombay HC

5 Years Jail, ₹1Lakh Fine For Dumping Debris, State Gets 18 Mths To Protect Mangroves On Private Forest Land

Mumbai:

A division bench of Bombay high court on Monday ordered the state to launch criminal prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act against persons and entities who destroy mangroves. The offence attracts a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. In an important directive, the state has been tasked with replanting mangroves that have been destroyed and restore such plots.

“The destruction of mangroves offends the fundamental right of citizens under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India,” said the judges. “It is the mandatory duty of the state and its agencies to protect and preserve mangroves. Mangroves cannot be permitted to be destructed by the state for private, commercial or any other use unless the court finds it necessary for public good or public interest. The precautionary principle makes it mandatory for the state and its agencies to anticipate and attack causes and consequences of degradation of mangroves,” said the bench.

The bench ruled that land which has mangroves, regardless of its ownership, is a forest and will be designated as a Coastal Regulation Zone 1 Area that entitles it to protection. While state-owned land, including those held by Cidco, MMRDA and other public agencies, would be protected forests, the government has been given 18 months to transfer mangrove plots designated as private forests to the forest department.

The court said the 50m buffer zone around mangrove plots admeasuring 1,000m are designated CRZ 1 area. Now, the court has restrained any development activities in the buffer zone even if the mangrove plot is less than 1,000m.

The high court has further asked the state to implement a series of measures for protection of mangrove areas. A committee has to be constituted within a month under the divisional commissioner. It, along with sub-committees, will be responsible for the preservation and conservation of mangroves and restoration of reclaimed mangrove areas. The state has to establish a grievance redressal mechanism to enable the public to lodge complaints about destruction of mangroves. A website with a facility to upload photographs along with complaints and a toll-free number will have to be set up. The state has been asked to identify vulnerable mangrove areas and take protective steps, including installing CCTV cameras and fencing the area.

The order came on a petition filed by Goenka and BEAG in 2004. In 2005, in its interim order in the matter, the HC had banned hacking of mangroves or construction and dumping of debris and garbage on such mangrove plots.

Since the October 2005 order, the state said it has notified over 15,087 hectares of mangrove land in the seven coastal districts as “reserved forests” and replanted mangroves on over 541 hectares. The state’s mangrove cover that remained stagnant between 2005-2013 at 181 sq km has now increased to 304 sq km.

A triumph for Debi Goenka and BEAG

For Mumbai-based activist Debi Goenka, Monday’s order brings to a close a battle he has fought for a decade and a half to protect Maharashtra’s mangroves from government agencies, private builders and encroachers. “This is a red letter day for the protection of mangroves. The high court has strengthened the interim orders issued earlier, and has taken great care to issue detailed directions that will help protect mangroves, and the buffer zone of 50 metres. Cidco and MMRDA will no longer get away with destruction of mangroves. This order will also ensure that the authorities will have to protect the mangroves,” said the mangrove crusader, who filed the PIL alongside BEAG.

Goenka, who has been a regular presence during the hearing of the PIL as well as various applications filed by agencies for exemptions, credits his legal team led by senior advocate Navroz Seervai for the favourable order. — ST

Implementing order properly will be vital, say activists

Navi Mumbai:

Welcoming the final high court order on stringent protection of mangroves, several activists pointed out that the success of the ruling will depend on the quality of implementation by the local authorities.

“It is good news that the final order of the high court is out, and it grants strong protection to mangroves and CRZ areas. However, I am concerned that the order should be properly implemented. In Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, activists have often complained to forest officials, municipality and also representatives of the court-appointed committee about debris dumping inside mangroves and encroachments, but the official reaction is often not quick,” said environmentalist Sunil Agarwal.

RTI activist Anarjit Chauhan said passing the buck among officials must stop. “The police, Konkan divisional commissionerate, and municipal authorities, among others, must sincerely implement the court orders. Citizens should not be made to run around to ensure mangroves are saved and culprits jailed.”

Petitioner Debi Goenka said he is positive things will change for the better after the order. “If any official drags his feet on protecting the greens, the court can be notified to take action. There are also emails and phone numbers where citizens can lodge their grievances formally.”

TIMES VIEW: The court’s order is significant, and equally important is the mechanism the judges have suggested to implement it. If the lodging of complaints is made easier and problemfree, if technology is brought in to monitor if mangroves have indeed not been destroyed step-by-step by land-grabbers and if the authorities on the ground take serious cognisance of complaints and initiate prompt criminal prosecution , the mangroves which are so critical to prevent flooding can indeed still be saved.

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Comment (1)

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The court has taken positive steps in ordering the government to protect mangroves for the sake of environment

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