The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation wrote to the state forest department’s mangrove cell earlier this week, asking it to earmark mangroves on a massive plot in Manori, which belongs to MTDC, so that it could be handed over to the department and declared a reserved forest. With this the state’s tourism agency, headed by environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, has begun the process of handing close to 700 acres of land with mangroves to the forest department and creating the city’s first ‘mangrove forest’. Even after giving up the 700 acres, MTDC will still have around 150-200 acres of land to develop for tourism-related activities in Manori and Gorai.
Ashutosh Salil, joint managing director, MTDC, said, “This was being discussed for quite some time. Now we have written to the mangrove cell, asking them to survey the plot and earmark the land that has mangroves. Our preliminary survey shows that [the mangroves] could be spread over around 700 acres. We can’t develop this land anyway, so it was decided to hand it over to the forest department.”
An official said the decision was taken by Thackeray, who directed officials to fast-track the process. “We can’t build anything on this land, and it would not be advisable to allow people to go to these areas. So it would be best to give this land back to the forest department and reserve them as a forest. Some part of the mangrove area will still remain with the MTDC,” the official added.
According to tourism department officials, around 1,000 acres across Manori and Gorai, 75 acres in Manori, and around 130 acres in Gorai have been reserved for playgrounds, tourist amenities and parking, while around 850 acres in the Manori-Gorai belt are mangrove lands.
A senior forest department official said that some of the mangrove areas in the Manori-Gorai belt have already been designated as forests. “We will carry out a detailed site verification of along creek edges both at Gorai and Manori to demarcate the area that the MTDC can hand over. This will ensure that the mangroves are free from encroachments and debris,” the official said.
Officials said that in September 2018, the Bombay High Court had directed that all mangroves, including those on land belonging to the state government, be declared as protected or reserved forests.
D Stalin, of Vanshakti, an environmental NGO, said, “After Aarey this is another welcome move by the state government. This will have a big impact on improving the mangrove footprint of the city. However, the mangroves must actually be protected. This must not end with a mere handover. Severe action must be taken against those who destroy mangroves.”
Last week, the state’s revenue and forest Department issued a notification under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, announcing its intention to declare 820 acres of Aarey Colony a reserved forest. The notification stated that 102.5 acres of land owned by the state forest department in Aarey Colony is proposed to be declared a reserved forest. While this land had been handed over to the department to build a zoo, that plan now stands scrapped. The other parcel of land, 717.5 acres spread over three revenue villages of Borivali, Goregaon and Marol-Maroshi in Aarey Milk Colony and owned by the Dairy Development Department, are also proposed to be declared a reserved forest.
According to environmentalists, mangroves are found in tropical swampy marshland, with roots that grow above the ground. Thousands of acres of velvety green mangroves line the coast of Mumbai. They act as natural buffers against coastal erosion and flooding, and store up to four times as much carbon as other forests.