Wetland destruction will make 5 lakh birds fly helter-skelter

MUMBAI: The ambitious Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA), now under construction, may help ease Mumbai air traffic congestion but it is bound to face the risk of massive bird hits due to nom-stop destruction of wetlands and mangroves in the project’s vicinity, environmentalists have told the DGCA and Indian Pilots Guild.

The green groups have written a separate letter to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to the continued burial of wetlands and mangroves in 5 to 20 km of the airport project. Letters to the Maharashtra government regarding the bird-hit risks in Navi Mumbai airport zone have been ignored as the destruction of wetlands and mangroves is going even now.  Hence this SOS, said the environment groups.

The letters have also been marked to the Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, Union and State Environment Ministers, apart from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
The green group pointed out that wetlands such as Panje and Bhendkhal in Navi Mumbai’s Uran area that are destination to at least five lakh of local and migratory birds are being systematically destroyed for various infrastructure projects like Navi Mumbai SEZ.

This could lead to the birds going helter-skelter and finding safe refuge in the high secure airport zone. Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has already written to former as well as current Chief Ministers but there has been no visible action to save the eco-sensitive sites, the environment focused NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, said in their letter to DGCA appealing to the regulator to take a serious note of the dangers.
“It is really sad that the government has been turning a blind eye to the grave danger despite the BNHS’ warnings,” said B N Kumar of NatConnect Foundation. “We have been shouting from the rooftops against the destruction of wetlands and mangroves under the guise of infrastructure development such as Navi Mumbai SEZ. Though the landfill has been stopped in some places, the destruction is rampant all across Uran,” Kumar said.
“We are not against development, but it has to be balanced with ecology and safety of human beings,” Kumar said.

NMIA is surrounded by several wetlands that are home to birds, some of which are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, per BNHS. A baseline report by the Society, commissioned by CIDCO for the airport also cautioned against the disappearance of the wetlands.
“CIDCO is the biggest culprit of environment destruction,” said Nandakumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. “We have already demanded the scrapping of NMSEZ which is anti-environment. The illegal landfill and blocking of free flow of tidal waters has already led to floods in 20 villages,” he said and wondered: “What is the point in having such projects that endanger the environment and human lives?”

BNHS director Deepak Apte said in his letters to former and present CMs the three major roosting sites in the vicinity of NMIA which provide safe refuge to the birds are being filled by NMSEZ. Though birds prefer wetlands, in the absence of the safe places, they could flock to high ground airport zone which could provide them safe refuge.
Environmentalists for long have been demanding Panje to be declared a bird sanctuary as it attracts 10,000 to 140,000 birds depending on the season. NatConnect has even requested the Union Environment Ministry to accord the status of a Samsar Wetland to Panje under the global accord to protect wetlands.

The Wetlands Grievance Reddressal Committee has also asked CIDCO and Raigad District Collector to maintain Panje as a wetland, allow free flow of water to the place to be included in the wetland atlas.
“Yet,” lamented Kumar: “CIDCO has included the vast 289 hectare wetland stretching from Panje to Dongari under its Development Plan for Dronagiri marking the area as Sectors 16 to 28.”

“We have also protested against non-inclusion of Panje in the draft CRZ map and called for redrawing the map,” Pawar said. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Manageent Authority (MCZMA) has already declared Panje and Karanja holding ponds as CRZ-1, ruling out any construction.
Following a series of complaints, the revenue authorities have filed FIRs against unnamed NMSEZ officials under the Environment Protection Act 1986 for destruction of mangroves and wetlands at Pagote and Bhendkhal. They named a dumper truck driver for carrying debris to Panje. “These are all mere eyewash and protect the high and mighty, at the cost of human lives and environment,” Pawar added.

“We sincerely hope that the DGCA and Pilots Guild will take a serious view of the future shocks and the flights with hundreds of passengers could face real danger of bird hits,” Kumar said.