In a significant order, the National Green Tribunal, Chennai the Petition filed by traditional fisher folk communities raising serious concerns about destruction of nearly 300 acres of mangroves in close proximity of the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary in East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. The clearing of mangroves have taken place for development of State Government sponsored housing project- Pedalandariki Illu as well as construction of a container depot for the railways.
The orders were passed in a petition filed by a social activist from Andhra Pradesh, D.Pal as well as local traditional fisher folk community members from Kakinada whose livelihoods have been severely impacted due to the mangrove destruction and reclamation of the creek for these projects. According to the petitioners, the destruction has impacted the livelihood of 1 lakh fisher folks who are directly or indirectly dependent on these mangrove wetland and creek ecosystems.
The order, passed by a bench comprising of Justice Ramakrishnan and Expert Member Saibal Dasgupta, noted that a similar issue was already pending before the Tribunal where an Expert Committee has been constituted to inquire. The NGT directed that the concerns raised by the fisher folk community including the reclamation of the creek, compensation for loss of livelihood as well as vulnerability of the coast in view of climate change be examined into by the Expert Committee comprising of officers of the Forest, Wildlife Departments as well as the environment ministry. The Tribunal had directed that a consolidated report should be submitted to the Tribunal by 18th August 2020.
According to the petitioners, Kakinada coast is already prone to inundation due to climate change induced sea level rise, and that the destruction of mangroves which act as a defense from such inundation has increased the risk of the same. The petitioners have also requested for a coastal vulnerability assessment of the Andhra Pradesh Coast This becomes even more relevant in light of the recent massive destruction caused along the Andhra- Orissa- West Bengal coast due to Cyclone Amphan.
The projects have been challenged on the grounds under the CRZ Notification, 2019, no activity is permissible in mangrove areas which have been classified as CRZ-1A which are ecologically sensitive areas along the coast. Another critical aspect is that the entire East Godavari district (which includes the Kakinada coast) has been classified as a “Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area” under the CRZ Notification which requires the preparation of an Integrated Management Plan and until such exercise is completed, any project falling within this area must be permitted after giving due regards to the views of coastal communities including fisher folk. However, no public consultations ever took place with regard to any of the projects. The petitioners, represented by Advocates Ritwick Dutta and Meera Gopal, also highlight that mangrove areas are deemed forest lands and therefore, any clearing is in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 . The petitioners have sought that the projects be immediately stopped and the mangrove and creek be restored under the supervision of an expert committee comprising of national level institution and liability fixed for illegal clearing of the mangroves.