Credit: Benjamin Mackinnon
The Bombay High Court, in an 83-page judgment, on Tuesday banned destruction and cutting of mangroves in Maharashtra. The bench, comprising Justice AS Oka and RI Chagla, also prohibited any sort of commercial exploitation of the mangroves. All mangrove land, according to the court, will fall in Coastal Regulation Zone-I category as per both the CRZ notifications of 1991 and 2011.
“The destruction of mangroves offends the fundamental rights of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. In view of the provisions of Articles 21, 47, 48A and 51A (g) of the Constitution of India, it is a mandatory duty of the State and its agencies and instrumentalities to protect and preserve mangroves.”
In August 2016, Maharashtra had notified 15,087.6 hectares of mangroves across the state as reserved forest. It made constructions within 50 metres of a mangrove belt illegal. However, this notification excluded 10,000 hectares of privately-owned mangrove land. In its latest direction, the high court has asked Maharashtra government to identify all such private plots and declare them as protected or reserved forest area within 18 months in accordance with the Indian Forests Act, 1927. The jurisdiction of those lands will then be transferred to the Maharashtra Forest Department.
Other directions issued
- Stop dumping of rubble/garbage/solid waste on the mangrove areas;
- The state government has to constitute a committee that shall be responsible for preservation and conservation of mangroves, and restoration of reclaimed mangroves areas;
- A grievance redressal mechanism needs to be created within three months wherein general public can lodge complain if destruction of mangroves takes place;
- State government has to replant destructed mangroves and restore mangroves areas which are illegally reclaimed;
- The state has to ensure that criminal law is set in motion against all those who commit offences punishable under section 15 of Environment Protection said Act of 1986.
The high court passed these directions in response to a public interest litigation filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG) regarding the destruction of mangroves in Maharashtra.
The petitioners brought to the court’s notice that Maharashtra government had regularised over 3,800 illegal structures on mangrove land. The court directed authorities to demolish all illegal private structures owned by film stars, businessmen and other wealthy individuals.
The petitioners also highlighted the importance of mangroves in our ecosystem. Several studies have shown that mangroves have the ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and protect people from hazards. They play a very important role in fighting tidal erosion.
In 2015, a report by the Bombay Natural History Society revealed that rampant bund building, unsustainable aquaculture and industrial growth are severely damaging mangroves in the Konkan coast.
In an interim order on October 6, 2005, the court had asked the state to conduct a detailed mapping of mangroves across Maharashtra through satellite remote sensing.
The court will again hear the case on December 1 when the state government will have to report compliance with the above directions.
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