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51% of mangrove cover yet to get protected forest tag, says CAG report

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MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government has yet to notify mangroves measuring 9,121 hectares as protected forests. The delay could render them vulnerable to destruction and encroachments, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report for 2014-15 has noted.

This expanse accounts for 51% of the mangrove cover in the state, which is spread over 17,783 hectares. Retaining mangroves is essential because they act as natural barriers against the intrusion of the sea and protect the coast from erosion.

The CAG said that the records of the chief conservator of forests (mangrove cell) in Mumbai showed that according to the 2005 Bombay high court judgment, the state government had notified 5,469 hectares of mangrove cover as “protected forest” in 2007-08. Another 3,193 hectares of mangrove cover was notified as protected forest in 2012-13. However, records till December 2015, showed that 9,121 hectares of mangroves still had to be notified as protected forest, the CAG report said.

But the state government said it had, in fact, notified a larger expanse of mangroves as “reserve forests”, which is a higher level of protection.

The state government said that mangroves in Maharashtra were spread over 15,087 hectares of which 12,673 hectares had been notified as “reserve forest”. Of the remaining 2,414 hectares, notification for an area of approximately 1,660 hectares had been sent to the government press for publication. The process of notifying the remaining area would be completed after taking the approval of the government, it said.

Environmentalists said that the government has dragged its feet on notifying mangrove cover. “As a result, large tracts of mangrove cover have been destroyed. The forest department refuses to intervene, saying that mangroves are not notified as protected forests,” said Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust.

Source: TOI-MUM

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NIA doesn’t ‘favour’ or ‘oppose’ discharge of 2006 Malegaon blasts accused

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MUMBAI: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has neither “opposed” nor “favoured” the discharge of any accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case and officials claim that this has been the agency’s stand from Day One.

The agency, which has been probing the case since 2011, wants the court to decide the fate of the case and discharge pleas of the accused as there are separate chargesheets by three different probe agencies, based on their line of investigation and evidence.

The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) had filed the first chargesheet against nine accused (Muslims) for the blasts that killed 37 and injured over 100 people. Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigated the case and filed a supplementary chargesheet on the lines of ATS. However, when NIA took over the case during the UPA government, it revealed that the attack was the handiwork of a “Hindutva fringe group”, on the basis of a confession by Swami Aseemanand, who was arrested for the 2007 Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad. NIA filed a chargesheet against four suspects. The agency has, however, not been able to gather strong evidence beyond Assemanand’s confession.

“From the very beginning, our position has been the same. Maharashtra ATS and CBI have filed separate chargesheets on the same lines with different set of accused. We filed a chargesheet on the basis of evidence we could gather. The court has to take a call on which set of accused should face the charges and whether the other set of accused should be discharged. Before that, if somebody is discharged and if charges are framed against him/them later, the whole process would prove to be infructuous,” said an officer. He added that “if NIA asks for discharge of those accused by ATS/CBI, it would be commenting on their chargesheet”. “Why should we?” he said.

The 2006 Malegaon blasts probe is one of the rare cases where three different agencies filed chargesheets within a span of five years.

NIA had even sought legal advice in the case and the experts strongly advised the agency to neither oppose nor favour any discharge. “The legal advice to NIA is against seeking discharge of the nine Muslims arrested by ATS. So, while we did not oppose their bail as they never figured in our line of investigation, we are leaving it to the court to decide on their discharge. This doesn’t mean that we are opposed to it. But let the judge decide on the basis of two different lines of investigations as to who is liable to be prosecuted. Then the other side can be discharged,” said the officer.

He said that NIA had taken the same stand when former NIA prosecutor Rohini Salian, who accused the agency of going soft, had asked the investigators to file ‘discharge’ plea for the Muslim accused. “We told her then also that it’s not our job. The court will discharge them if nothing is found against them,” the officer added.

Source: TOI-MUM

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20 kids land in hospital after eating ‘stale’ food at students’ conference in Mumbai

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Mumbai: Around 20 schoolchildren were hospitalized for food poisoning and hundreds complained of vomiting post lunch at three of the four venues of a students’ conference organized by the Indian International Model United Nations (IIMUN) on Thursday.

Aman Baldia, senior vice-president of IIMUN, said they have approached the police against the popular food chain that had provided the “stale” lunch.

“The students have been admitted at various hospitals; they are all out of danger. The police are probing the matter,” said DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni. As the situation spiralled out of control, the two-day conference was called off.

Over 5,000 students from classes VII to XI, mostly from elite schools, attended the conference at Lala Lajpatrai College in Mahalaxmi, Thadomal Shahani College in Bandra, KC College in Churchgate and Whistling Woods in Goregaon. “It was a pre-set dal makhani meal. When some students complained that it was stale, we called for food from other joints. But by then, many had already eaten,” said Baldia. Around 2pm, many students started vomiting at the Mahalaxmi, Bandra and Churchgate venues.

Around 13 children from the Mahalaxmi venue were rushed to Jaslok Hospital, of which four were admitted, while two took discharge against medical advice. “They complained of cramps, weakness and vomiting. A few of them also had fluctuating blood pressure levels and fever,” said Dr Tarang Gianchandani. “These are classic symptoms of food poisoning.” The hospital has preserved food samples to aid police probe.

Two students were rushed to Holy Family Hospital from the Bandra venue with similar symptoms. While one student was admiited and kept under observation, the other was sent home after treatment, said an on-duty doctor.

The Khar and Tardeo police are recording students’ statements. “Based on what they say, we will take a decision on whether a cognizable offence is made out,” said senior inspector Ramchandra Jadhav of Khar police station.

Source: TOI-MUM

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