n the extreme north-eastern end of Mumbai limits, mangroves close to the vast expanse of slums in Mankhurd’s Cheetah Camp area are being destroyed at an alarming rate even as repeated complaints by residents have fallen on deaf ears. Nearly 400 new shanties have been built illegally by reclaiming mudflats and cutting mangroves spread over an area of at least 55 acres in the past two years.
Residents believe that ‘slumlords’ are able to do this with the connivance of the local police and BMC officials while the forest department and the collector’s office turn a blind eye.
When Newsline visited the area, cement and brick houses as well shanties made up of tin sheets were seen standing on stilts on mudflats, less than a metre away from a thick spread of mangroves.
Ayyub Noor Mohammed, who stays in Cheetah Camp, said less than four months ago there were mangroves on the same land where around 60 new shanties stand today. His house was built in 1976 when the entire Anushakti Nagar settlement was razed and shifted to Cheetah Camp in order to clear land for extending the BARC facility.
On May 15, when a fresh hoard of cut mangroves were seen dumped in the vicinity, Ayyub wrote complaints to Trombay police officers, assistant municipal commissioner of M East ward, range forest officer and chief conservator of forests, among others.
“I have not got a reply from any of them yet. The police usually come here to crack down on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants but they never take action against ‘slumlords’ who get BMC-appointed garbage lifting NGOs to dump solid waste and debris on mudflats after the mangroves are cut. Not a single sack of debris can be brought to this area without conniving with the local police,” he said. He alleged that civic body-appointed Dattak Vast Yojnas actually use BMC JCBs to level waste and debris, killing mangrove seeds underneath.
While most of these hutments are home to migrant labourers, there are also bag-making, zari and embroidery work, plastic welding and other such small manufacturing units.
Suhail Ali (34), who claims to be living in the area for 20 years, struggles to keep insects off his four-year-old son. Sacks of debris make up for the approach road towards his hut. His son occasionally slips into the mudflats while walking on these. “We have trained him to hold on to the sacks when he slips, before we can get him out,” he said.
Mohammed said just 150 sq m of space on mudflats without any debris filling and leveling costs about Rs 50,000 while reclaimed land costs up to Rs 3 lakh.
Asked about civic body-appointed NGOs carrying out illegal dumping, assistant commissioner Amit Dave said, “It is impossible that our vehicles are being used for it. As all mangrove land belongs to the collector, we even initiated a massive demolition drive here last month, when over 100 structures were razed,” he said.
Chief Conservator of Forest (Thane) R K Bole said action would be taken if mangroves are found cut illegally and slums are found in the 50-metre mandatory periphery around mangroves.
Senior inspector of Trombay police Sanjay Khaire refuted the allegations against police. “Though we are not responsible for taking action against mangrove destruction, we repeatedly write to the suburban collector, BMC ward office and the range forest office, asking them to take appropriate action against those cutting mangroves,” he said.