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.