Sunil and Shruti Agarwal and their family have been fighting to save 80 hectares of wetland in Navi Mumbai home to thousands of flamingos. The land is proposed to be converted into a posh township with an 18 hole golf course. But the Bombay High Court in 2018 put a stay order on the project. The local forest department is also involved with a proposal to develop it as a conservation area.
Navi Mumbai is a well-planned younger sister of Mumbai, but different in the landscape since it’s divided into sectors, has good vegetation and less population. It also has open spaces, mangroves, salt pans; something which doesn’t exist in Mumbai. But many such spaces in Navi Mumbai are vulnerable to human greed. For example, the Panje wetland spread over 200 hectares, an important site for migratory birds. Another space is the 20-hectare wetland near NRI Complex.
The Agarwal family shifted to this place in 2016 and while on a routine morning walk came across the rampant destruction. This area has around 21 bird species, out of which four are in the threatened and one in the vulnerable category, as per a Bombay Natural History Society report. They also have recorded many water-bird species in the area.
The same report also mentions threats and damage caused by human activity to the area’s fragile ecosystem. But this wasn’t the scene always. Before 1990, the area had even more open land and mangroves, but thanks to so-called development all of that has been lost. Navi Mumbai was created to lessen the pressure on Mumbai City, the most populated area of India today.
Human activity has caused irreparable damage. Many mangroves were destroyed to construct residential complexes. Surprisingly, they got the required environmental clearance—no prizes for guessing how these things work out in our heavily corrupted system and bureaucracy.
The Agarwal family has been successfully able to create public awareness about the issue, but the authorities don’t heed to it. Some elements also tried to file a defamation case against Sunil Ji, but that didn’t let him lose hope. They have also filed a PIL on this issue. But as there are big stakeholders and huge monetary investments involved a stay order has been granted as of now.
The project developer has now appealed to the Supreme Court to remove the stay order. Interestingly, declaring the area as a conservation reserve will require the permission of the land owner’s consent since the land has already been sold out and doesn’t belong to the government or forest department any more. All in all, it’s good to see urban India slowly and gradually awakening to the realities of climate change and are willing to work on it. They need our support and help.