‘Not even 1% of mangroves notified as reserved forests have been encroached’

With mangroves under threat from infrastructure work and encroachments across the city, N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests and joint president of the state mangrove committee, elaborates on the conservation efforts, community involvement and ushering a ‘blue-green revolution’ in the coastal belt of Maharashtra, in an interview with Sanjana Bhalerao.

What will be the consequences of infrastructure projects like MTHL and now the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train on the wetlands/creeks ecosystem?

Given the ever-growing population of Mumbai and the changing lifestyles of its citizens, it is inevitable that the city’s infrastructure undergoes upgradation from time to time. Creation of state-of-the-art infrastructure is essential even for maintaining a cleaner environment, as it will reduce our carbon footprint by avoiding traffic congestion and economising on fuel use. Every large infrastructure has to necessarily obtain a series of statutory environmental clearances. This is to ensure environmental safeguards and mitigation measures are put in place to minimise the predicted impact of the infrastructure project on the environment. For example, in particularly sensitive areas like the Thane creek, the high-speed train is designed to pass through a long and deep tunnel to make sure that the impact on the surface would be minimal. MTHL could have some impact on the flamingo population of Sewri during the construction phase, but the avian population is likely to bounce back once the work is completed. A number of mitigation measures have been identified and being put in place for both these projects.

This January saw an increase in the number of flamingos — over one lakh visited the Thane creek. There is a surge in flamingos flying to Thane creek. Is pollution and sewage flow into the creek a possible reason for this?

The pollution level in the Thane creek is indeed a factor that contributes to greater availability of food materials for flamingos, but there is no evidence that the pollution levels have shot up in recent years, resulting in a sudden surge in the flamingo population. In my opinion, the increase is attributable more to the shrinking wetlands elsewhere, which makes Mumbai one of the last and largest safe havens for the flamingos.

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