State government in India fails to meet court deadline on satellite mapping...

State government in India fails to meet court deadline on satellite mapping of fast depleting mangroves

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Mumbai, India, 7 August 2006: The Maharashtra government is all set to cut a sorry figure before the Bombay High Court for its failure to complete satellite mapping of mangroves in Mumbai, transfer the satellite images on land records, and hand over it to the Forest Department by August 20 as directed by the court in its October 6, 2005 judgement.

Revenue, forest, and environment departments have not completed the tasks assigned to them by the High Court before the stipulated deadline, bureaucrats at these departments told the Economic Times. As a consequence, the fast-depleting mangroves in Mumbai and Thane districts are unlikely to be transferred to the forest department as ‘protected forests’ in near future.

The Principal Secretary, Environment, Sharvari Gokhale, said that handing over the mangroves to the forest department would not happen for another three to four months. “It’s a mammoth task to carry out satellite mapping of mangroves, transfer the satellite images to land records, and update the revenue records identifying mangroves. It will take some more time. We may not seek an extension of the deadline from the High Court, but we would inform the court on the job done so far,” said Ms. Gokhale.

Principal Secretary, Forests, Neela Satyanarayan, said the department had not received satellite mappings so far. “The environment department has been asked to do the mapping. They have yet to submit the maps to us,” Ms Satyanarayan said. Responding to a petition filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG), the High Court had imposed a total freeze on construction activity and dumping of debris within fifty metres around mangroves.

The court also asked civic authorities not to give permission to any development plan on land within a fifty metre periphery of mangroves. The HC had also asked Nagpur-based Maharashtra Remote Sensing Applications Centre (MRSAC) to carry out a second phase of high resolution satellite mapping of mangroves. The first phase mapping by MRSAC did not have details though it gave some idea about mangroves in the state.

According to the first phase of satellite mapping, the state has around 600 square kilometres of wet land, of which mangroves comprise 257.71 square km. There are about 40 square km of mangroves in Thane and Mumbai. The forest and revenue department was directed to get this job done by April 6, ’06, but Ms Gokhale said the maps were received from the MRSAC in mid-June. “The resolution of these maps is fairly good but they are too complicated to be reproduced on land records in a short span,” Ms Gokhale said.

The HC had also set June 1 as the deadline for transferring the satellite maps to revenue records, update land records clearly identifying mangroves, and declare them as protected forests. But failure by the government departments to meet deadlines has raised questions about the state’s commitment to protect mangroves.