Activists seek green manifesto in Maharashtra polls

A view of the construction site of a metro train parking shed for an upcoming subway line is seen in the Aarey Colony suburb of Mumbai, India, October 5, 2019. Photo/REUTERS

Seeking to make the environment an election issue, green groups have set out an agenda for all candidates ranging from protection of Mumbai's forest to mangroves and setting up of a dedicated security force to protect ecology.

There is always a stress on the environment in Mumbai and the larger Mumbai metropolitan region.

More than 2,000 trees have been chopped in Aarey to pave the way for a Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited car shed while over 50,000 mangroves may have to go for the bullet train project.

Green groups – Samachar Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP) – reminded the candidates for the Assembly elections about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that it was time to act and end mere talk about environment care. The environment has been the single biggest victim of all our infrastructure activities over the years, the appeal said.

“In our mad race for development we have not only turned a blind eye to the environment but destroyed the nature with no regrets and no plans to repair the loss,” said B N Kumar, chairman of the Samachar Foundation. “This is not limited to Mumbai, Pune or some cities but to the entire State of Maharashtra. On the one hand, the government launches ambitious plans to plant crores of trees while on the other it uproots many more under the guise of development. Some balance, this,” he lamented and underlined: “We are not against infrastructure or any development. But our question is: should it happen at the cost of the environment?”

The groups have been demanding setting up of a dedicated Green Police to tackle environment-related violations as the existing police force is woefully inadequate to handle regular crime. 

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has referred the issue to the Home Department and the green groups have asked the candidates to take it up with all sincerity.

Listing the recent damages to the environment, Nandakumar Pawar, head of SEAP, said that as many as one lakh trees to be cut for the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Mahamarh.

Hundreds of fishermen from Uran and other areas in Mumbai lost their source of income as their fishing areas have been snatched away for projects by ONGC, the Navy and JNPT. The victims are yet to get compensated. To top it, the project proponents are wantonly destroying fish breeding areas – mangroves. The fishermen are struggling for their daily catch and survival.

“Mangroves,” Pawar said, “you may not be aware, are very much essential for coastal areas. They protect us from high tides, soil erosion, act as rainwater forests, protect us from carbon emission impact as they absorb apart from serving as breeding areas for fish, crabs etc., Yet, we treat mangroves as any ordinary bush, grass or wild plant and destroy them all over MMR.”

Talking about another bolt from the blue, Kumar said the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train project is going run over 54,000 mangroves. While the government tends to take it easy, on their petition, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which is funding the project, has assured us that it will closely monitor the loss of mangroves. “We, through the RTO route, obtained a Mangrove Society report which clearly speaks about the loss of not only the sea plants, but the wildlife, fish, and several species of birds. In short, it is going to destroy the bio-diversity. What are you going to do about it?” Kumar said.

Bhagwan Keshbat in an online petition said: "Making a commitment in the manifesto will set the tone for the party's work in the years to come, and also allows citizens to hold them accountable. We must exert collective pressure to make this happen."

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