Complaint alleges large-scale destruction and diversion of mangroves to industry
The Pune bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has stayed the felling of mangrove forests in Gujarat without the prior approval of the tribunal till January 14. The order was given on a complaint filed by Mumbai-based environmental non-profit, Conservation Action Trust (CAT), earlier this year, which said the revenue department of Gujarat has been illegally diverting mangrove forests to various industries at different locations in the coastal areas of the state.
CAT identified three major mangrove forest areas in the state, which have been affected by large-scale industrial activity over the past few years. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) visited one of the areas close to Navlakhi port in Morbi Taluka of Rajkot district in August this year, following complaints from CAT as well local farming and fishing communities. The report, which was later produced in front of the tribunal, states that 7,770 hectares of reserved mangrove forests were diverted to a Rajkot-based salt manufacturing company, Dev Salts.
Salt over mangroves
Site inspection by MoEF officials, S K Bhandari and A Mehrotra revealed the destruction of mangroves did take place in the area, which attracts various provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The report indicates that Rajkot district administration did not consider any of these provisions while diverting the mangrove forest to the salt manufacturer.
Local farmers’ bodies such as Agariya Hitrakshak Manch, Haripar village, based in Maliya Miyana area of Rajkot district, have alleged that the salt manufacturing company has blocked the major creeks, which has lead to saline ingress from the salt pans into agricultural fields. Even the local salt manufacturers’ association also complained to the visiting team against Dev Salts, stating that waste generated from the salt production of these companies cannot reach the seas as Dev Salt has blocked all the drainage.
MoEF’s inspection report dated September 5, however, did not recommend any action against the salt manufacturer or the local administration. Even as the regional forest officials told the inspection team that they had contested Rajkot collector’s decision to divert the mangrove forest to the salt manufacturer, the ministry officials stated in the report that it was up to the state government to take the final call on the reservation of the area for mangrove forest.
Dissatisfied with MoEF action, CAT and the local organisations approached NGT. Site visits by CAT in August showed that neither the forest department of Gujarat nor the Rajkot district administration initiated any action against the salt manufacturer. “No clearances have been obtained (by the salt manufacturer) either under the Forest Conservation Act or under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991,” says Debi Goenka, conservationist and a trustee of CAT.
Port expansion takes toll on mangroves
The second site that finds mention in the petition is Tuna Port in Kutch district, which is also considered as a satellite port of Kandla port. CAT members visited the site following complaints made by grassroots organisations and local fishing community. It found that mangroves were being destroyed to make way for development of the port. According to Gujarat government, Adani Group signed a Rs 1,190 crore memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Kandla Port Trust to develop and augment the capacity of Tuna Port. CAT stated in its petition that large scale destruction of mangrove forests has taken place to expand the Tuna port.
The third site mentioned is Hazira port near Surat, which has been developed for storage of liquified natural gas by various private and government owned oil companies. It has been alleged that more than 8.9 ha of mangrove forests have been de-reserved to allow the expansion of the port.
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