The news that Versova residents have won legal protection for their mangrove forests brings back many memories to some CHSUK members, a few of which are recorded below.
CHS-Sachetan has long had the protection of mangroves at heart. During its campaign against the Enron power plant it gave several reasons countering the Environmental Impact Assessment report’s claim that fishing in the estuary would be unaffected, pointing out that spills from oil tankers could have an adverse effect on the 20 acre stretch of mangroves.
Sachetan took legal action against the illegal destruction of the mangroves a few hundred yards away from its Bandra office which were dying and practically intervened whenever lorries were seen attempting to dump rubble on them. Four years later the mangroves had grown remarkably in size and vigour.
Mangroves stabilise the seafloor, trap sediments and reduce the angle of the seabed’s slope, which helps to dissipate the energy of breaking waves, protecting existing dykes, provide nutrients and sheltered spawning grounds for fish among their flooded roots and branches. Their flowers attract bees and they also provide timber. (Living sea walls keep floods at bay: Fred Pearce, New Statesman, 1.6.96 )
Devinder Sharma’s article linking the tsunami, mangroves and the activities of the market economy in 2005 was forwarded by CHSUK to British MP Caroline Spelman [now minister for the environment] who replied “ I will forward it to our International Development spokesman, Alan Duncan, to make him aware of the implications of removing the mangrove forests.”
Devinder wrote: “In India, mangrove cover has been reduced to less than a third of its original in the past three decades. Between 1963 and 1977, India destroyed nearly 50% of its mangroves. Local communities were forcibly evicted to make way for the shrimp farms. In Andhra Pradesh, more than 50,000 people were forcibly removed and millions displaced throughout the country to make room for the aquaculture farms. Whatever remained of the mangroves was cut down by the hotel industry. Aided and abetted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Industries, builders moved in to ravage the coastline. Five-star hotels, golf courses, industries, and mansions sprung up all along disregarding the concern being expressed by environmentalists. These two ministries worked overtime to dilute the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms thereby allowing the hotels to even take over the 500 meter buffer that was supposed to be maintained along the beach.”
It was good to read in the Times of India this month that after a 10-year struggle, Versova residents, who had filed a public-interest litigation (PIL) in 2002, have won legal protection for their mangrove forests.
When they first tried to prevent the dumping of debris on mangroves near their houses, they were opposed by a powerful lobby of politicians, bureaucrats and builders. They discovered that the vast tract of mangroves had already been parcelled off to developers and 47 housing societies had been formed. Builders had been dumping rubble on the mangroves to cut off seawater to the mangroves.
The ‘Save Andheri-Versova Environment Forum’ was formed and residents intervened every time a truck came to dump debris or they saw people cutting mangroves.
On April 28 the Bombay high court ordered the erection of a chain-link fence along the high-tide line of survey number 161 (which has the mangroves). The bench of F.I. Rebello and A.A. Sayed also ordered the planting of trees along the perimeter as a bio-shield.
SAVE forum are to be congratulated on their achievement. As treasurer Deepak Mehta points out, the need for protecting mangroves was highlighted by the tsunami in 2004 and the flooding of Mumbai in 2005.