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Forest fight: Fadnavis' toilets versus minister's mangroves

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:00 IST

The norms

  • Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis wants Coastal Regulatory Zone rules to be diluted
  • He wants Mumbai to be treated as an exceptional case. The idea is to boost development
  • However he claims, this is to build toilets for slum dwellers

The bone of contention

  • Maharashtra forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has created a Mangrove Protection Authority
  • This will protect over 30,000 hectare of mangroves along Maharashtra\'s 720 km coastline
  • The govt cannot protect mangroves and relax norms at the same time
  • It\'s clear that Fadnavis and Mungantiwar are at cross purposes

It has been less than a year since the BJP came to power in Maharashtra but cracks have already started emerging in the Devendra Fadnavis government.

Earlier the main cause of Fadnavis' woes was the Shiv Sena. Now even his own party colleagues have begun making matters difficult for him.

Fadnavis wants relaxation of norms

It is well known that chief minister has been working overtime to bring in investment into Maharashtra. But his efforts are being undermined by his own Cabinet ministers, that too from the BJP.

Fadnavis is desperately trying to get the Coastal Regulatory Zone Rules (CRZ) diluted. He has made several rounds of the Environment Ministry in New Delhi to convince the Centre CRZ to relax the norms for Mumbai, citing it as a special case.

However, Fadnavis cites "building toilets" as the rationale for the relaxation of the norms. "Illegal slums have been sprouted all along Mumbai's coastline. Since the people living in these slums do not have access to toilets, they defecate in the open, which adds to the threat of epidemics. We want the relaxation in CRZ rules so to facilitate construction of toilets for these people along the coastline," he said.

Mangrove Protection Authority

After the NITI Aayog meeting at New Delhi this week, Fadnavis tweeted that he had discussed relaxation of CRZ with central government and hoped that it will be done soon.

But even before people could take notice of Fadnavis' tweet, his party colleague and Maharashtra's minister for forests, Sudhir Mungantiwar announced the setting up of the Mangrove Protection Authority in the state, a body that could end up achieving the opposite of what Fadnavis wants.

This will be an independent authority to protect mangrove forests of around 30,000 hectares along the state's 720 km coastline.

MPA will protect 30,000 hectares of mangrove forests along Maharashtra's 720 km coastline

According to Mungantiwar, the mangrove forests are under severe threat, especially from the land mafia.

The Navi Mumbai International Airport Authority has given 3% of its total project cost to the state forest department, as directed by the state wildlife board. The corpus has been used to set up the Authority.

Interestingly, the patron of the Authority would be none other than the chief minister. The forest minister would be the chairman of 23-member body, while Chief Conservator of the Forests, Mangrove Cell will be the secretary of the Authority.

The state government controls around 30,000 hectare of mangrove forests while around 17,000 hectare of land having mangrove cover is privately owned. "The forest department will encourage activities such as crab culture and beekeeping. These initiatives will open new avenues of livelihood for the communities living on coastline," Mungantiwar said.

What environmentalists feel

The decision to constitute the authority is a pleasant surprise for the environmentalists who are trying to protect the coastal ecosystem of Mumbai and the state.

However, they question how the government plans to relax CRZ norms and protect mangroves at the same time.

"Either CRZ norms can be relaxed or mangroves can be protected. It will be interesting to see how the state government walks the tight rope," said Stalin D, director of Mumbai based environmental NGO Vanashakti.

He said that the efforts to dilute CRZ norms to open coastal land for development have been going on ever since these norms came into existence.

"Once CRZ is relaxed, the entire coast can be grabbed by the land mafia. It will virtually open the landmass between high tide line and low tide line for development. It will be the last nail in Mumbai's coffin," Stalin said.

Girish Raut, noted environmentalist, finds the CM's argument "ridiculous". "This is the most ridiculous argument I ever heard for relaxation in CRZ rules. If the CM is so concerned about the beauty of the coastline, the government should provide mobile toilets to the people there."

He said,"This is the most dangerous way of achieving so called development. This has been happening for the last six decades. Successive governments, in connivance with land mafia and builders, have closed creek mouths leading to severe flooding and degradation of Mumbai's coastline." According to him, the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) is a classic example of disaster due to relaxation in CRZ.

"The entire western coast of Mumbai has been destroyed due to the reclamation for BWSL. Now the situation is such that the entire city gets flooded if the heavy rains coincide with high tide. This never happened in the past. Today, sea water enters as deep as over three km landwards," Raut said.

First published: 26 September 2015, 6:02 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.