Maharashtra Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray, has asked the Urban Development department to look into allegations of denotified-Navi Mumbai SEZ (NMSEZ) security preventing a critical research study by the prestigious BNHS on the flights and safety of birds at the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA).
Quickly responding to a complaint from NatConnect Foundation seeking his immediate intervention, Thackeray asked Bhushan Gagrani, Principal Secretary – Urban development-1, to look into the issue.
“This is a serious study assigned by the city planner and State-government owned CIDCO itself to BNHS, which has reported as early as in 2015 that the wanton destruction of wetlands in the 25km radius of the NMIA project could pose bird-hit dangers for the future flights,” said NatConnect Foundation director, BN Kumar.
This danger would increase as the birds could fill the skies in search of roosting and resting grounds when they miss their traditional destinations and even land at the high-ground airport site, the research body said.
CIDCO then asked BNHS to do a long-term study on the subject and the ongoing research is focused on Panje Wetland as the nearly 300-hectare contiguous water body attracts thousands of different species 50 varieties such as Lesser Whistling Duck, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna, Indian Spot-billed Duck and Little Grebe land here.
BNHS’s latest report – Coastal Wetlands And Waterbirds Of Navi Mumbai: Current Status –published in 2019 mentions the need to preserve and conserve the five constantly threatened wetlands – Belpada, Bhendkhal, Panje, NRI and TS Chanakya.
Though Covid has impacted the study, the researchers who have begun to spring back into action after the easing of lockdown curbs have been physically stopped by the security at Panje wetland, which CIDCO has leased out to the Special Economic Zone, allege the greens.
BNHS director, Dr Bivash Pandav, has said in an online discussion hosted by NatConnect Foundation that he was also asked to leave Panje wetland when he went with his team
Media persons, nature photographers and the local fishing community have also been stopped from entering the wetland by the security and some local vested interests, the mail to Thackeray pointed out.
The NMSEZ security cabins at Panje are also illegal and the State Environment Director asked the project CEO and CIDCO to demolish them in November 2020 as the area falls under CRZ-1 category that prohibits any construction. Yet, the cabins are intact and so is the security, Nandkumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, said.
The cabins have come up despite Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray’s order against construction at the wetland. There also has been intermittent landfill at the place. Certain unidentified people set fire crackers to chase away the protected migratory birds, Pawar said.
Despite repeated attempts, CIDCO, which has a stake in NMSEZ, refused to comment on the allegations and complaint. There was no response from NMSEZ either. NMSEZ has earlier denied allegations of dumping debris in the area and also stated that Panje is not a wetland but agricultural land leased to it, a fact it said, was confirmed by the state government, which has not included it in its list of wetlands.
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