It all happened when eco-activists and nature lovers recently discovered an earth excavator machine at Panje wetland in Uran — 60 kilometres away from Mumbai. This raised an alarm-bell and they rushed to civic authorities urging them to declare Panje as a bird sanctuary in order to thwart its wanton damage by land sharks.
This nature’s paradise boasts of 200 species of avian — both migratory as well as domestic. Spread across 223 hectare and home to precious species like flamingos, storks, weavers, skimmers, common shelducks and munniyas, Panje wetland contains ecologically rich marshes and mangroves, which prevents the raging waves to nibble at the vulnerable coastlines of the metropolis. Among the birds flocking here, few are listed as endangered species by the IUCN, such as painted stork, curlew sandpiper and eurasian curlew.
This marshland is flocked by tourists and bird-lovers every year, particularly in this month of the year to watch birds travelling all the way from icy Siberia — 11,000 kilometers away in Russia to Panje to recharge, refuel, breed and proliferate in the temperate climate. Bar-tailed godwit is one among them besides other migratory birds those escaping the freezing cold climes and halting at Panje to rest and recharge.
Ironically the city’s powerful clique — builders, bureaucrats and politicians eyes up this green ‘treasure trove’, intending to reclaim the water body for construction activities have even built around ten security cabins with a signboard — “Private property — Trespassers will be prosecuted”.. Irked by their audacious act, the city greens urged the state environment minister Aditya Thackeray to take exemplary action against the officials those acting in cahoots with the builders and land grabbers. This happened despite Aditya’s March 3rd order directing the officials to ensure that no fresh construction takes place at Panje. Greens shoot a fresh letter to the Environment Minister with copy to the state CM Uddhav Thackeray.
The letter explaining the serious nature of encroachment by land grabbers is pending with the environment ministry since past couple of months. B N Kumar, director of NatConnect Foundation rued, “We appreciate Thackeray’s stand on protecting the bio-diversity of Mumbai region, and would like to point out the glaring violations in broad daylight.”
“We would like to bring to your notice a very serious lapse on part of the Raigad District collector and CIDCO as they have not ensured that your instructions to ensure no fresh construction at Panje wetland are not implemented,” he continued.
Office bearers of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, an NGO monitoring such lapses, said they were shocked to stumble upon ten security cabins at Panje with a board proclaiming the place as private property.
“How can a marshland be somebody’s private assets?”, they queried and complained against the haughty security guards who brusquely stop nature-lovers and fishermen from entering the mangroves.
Taking cognizance, the Mumbai High Court has appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee and directed the collector as well as the civic body to ensure that Panje is protected and conserved at any cost.
The mangroves are fast depleting from the city’s map which is ecologically disastrous and lays the city to the mercy of natural calamities. The State Mangrove Foundation executive director, Virendra Tiwari, urged the government to declare Panje and other marshlands of Belpada and Bhendkhal as ecologically-conserved areas and any tinkering with its nature should invite harsh punishment.
Despite all this uproar several security cabins came up at Panje marshland, which is already fenced by a huge, illegal surrounding wall.
CIDCO to benefit SEZ, builders
“CIDCO has already covered the Panje wetland as Sector 16-28 in its Dronagiri DP that too without any sanction from MCZMA!,” the activist informed.
He further said that the MCZMA in its rejoinder to an RTI petition disclosed that they had not permitted the fencing of the marshland by tall brick walls (or for that matter the sluice gates erected by CIDCO). Sluice gates were illegally erected at Panje to regulate the intertidal water by CIDCO — a clear motive to benefit vested interests. The MCZMA in its affidavit which was filed in the Mumbai High Court stated that Panje wetland falls under CRZ-1 category (including Dronagiri Holding Pond-2).
Here, it’s essential to mention that according to Coastal Regulation Zone Act, one cannot build any permanent structure within a specified radius along coastline. Thus the transfer of Panje, including two other wetlands — Pagote and Bhedkhal, to free trade zone NMSEZ by CIDCO is grossly illegal. The CIDCO’s faux pas invites penal retribution.
Braving all this, the local administration has filed FIRs against NMSEZ for this criminal trespass — land filling and annihilating mangroves and wetlands at Pagote and Bhendkhal.
An activist reiterated, “We have brought this to the notice of the government authorities stressing that India has already launched a national action plan for the conservation of migratory birds along with the Central Asian Flyway. Panje is not only an important avian site but also vital for the local fisher community.”