Belapur: Former chairman of the Standing Committee, Health Committee and Sports and Cultural Affairs Committee of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has warned that the CBD-Belapur node in Navi Mumbai could see flooding at several places due to the municipal administration failing to get clearance, from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, to clear the overgrown mangroves in the holding ponds in the city.

Dr. Jayaji Nath

CIDCO constructed the holding ponds at 7 locations in the city to hold water during high tide and heavy rains as nearly 40 per cent of the city is in low lying areas, that is below sea level. However, due to the tidal flow into the holding pond, the mangroves kept growing unabated, as also the gathering slush, gradually reducing the holding capacity of these ponds. Dr. Nath states that he has been raising this issue for years at the Standing Committee, Ward and general body meetings of NMMC and was always put off under the pretext of Court orders against destruction of mangroves. He insisted on re-planting the mangroves in other locations, which is certainly not practical, according to municipal officials in the know.

Adding salt to injury, the Bombay High Court’s judgement in the Public Interest Litigation filed by the Bombay Environmental Action Group and another against the State of Maharashtra and others in PIL no. 87 of 2006, which concerned the issue of destruction of mangroves in the entire State of Maharashtra on a very large scale, had ordered a total freeze on the destruction and cutting of mangroves in the entire State, stop all construction and rubble/garbage dumping on the mangrove areas and no development permission to be issued in any area under mangroves.

Further para 28 section 2 of The Concept of “Forest” under The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 states that no State Government or other authority shall make, except with the prior approval of the Central Government, any order directing that any forest land or any portion thereof may be used for any non-forest purpose and that any forest land or any portion thereof may be cleared of trees which have grown naturally in that portion of land, for the purpose of using it for re-afforestation.

Hence the Court apparently was never apprised of this unique feature of mangroves growing naturally by tidal flow in holding ponds constructed by CIDCO for a dedicated purpose, that concerns the protection of the city and its citizens from flooding, due to the geographical topography of the city. Even the city leaders and administrators failed to see the significance and utility of the holding ponds and thereby ignored the regular cleaning of these ponds, thus reducing the holding capacity of some of these ponds.

However, the holding pond in sector 13 in CBD-Belapur has been encroached with a few slums and heavy mangrove growth, reducing the holding pond into a small drain like the Mithi river in Mumbai prior to the 26/7 cloudburst flooding in 2005. A part of it has been reclaimed too by debris dumping, thus violating the Environment Protection and Forest Acts, which could invoke Contempt of Court proceedings against the municipal commissioner and the concerned officials.

A strong legal representation to the union government alone appears to be the solution or the residents of sectors 4,5 and 6 of CBD-Belapur in particular will bear the brunt of heavy flooding.  It is all about political grasp and will and administrative initiative, opines a well-meaning citizen.