Satellite images captured by Sentinel-2 between February and May have revealed that mangroves on 100 acres (40 hectares) of land have been felled for a housing project at Kakinada in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
The project was initiated by the Andhra Pradesh government under the Navaratnalu-Pedalandaraki Illu programme to provide houses to the homeless by the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Mission.
Environmentalist Satyanarayana Bolisetty has filed a petition against the government in the southern branch of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has now formed a five-member committee to enquire into the matter.
Mangroves serve as breeding grounds for aquatic life and provide vital ecosystem services to coastal fishing communities. Environmentalists say the cost of biodiversity lost by their removal for the project potentially runs into crores of rupees.
“Kakinada has the second-largest mangroves in India. It plays an important role in protecting seashores of the Kakinada region, which is prone to storms, tsunami, and cyclones. It is a natural barrier between the sea and land. Also, they are home to several marine species,” said environmental ecologist Rajashekar Tummala.
Environmentalists said an impact assessment committee should have been constituted before vandalizing the mangroves.
“It’s technically a part of Corangi Wildlife Sanctuary itself. Mangroves will grow only on the coastal margins where land meets water. In Kakinada, a stream flowing from the Godavari joins the old port. On the right side of the old port is Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary. On the left several constructions are coming up along the port. The mangroves on the left are diminishing due to these constructions,” said Bolisetty.
He also said there is a Supreme Court order that states mangroves should be considered protected forest areas.
“All forms of marine life start from mangroves. Not just in Kakinada, worldwide, the life of fishing communities depends on the mangrove forests,” Bolisetty said.
In response to the allegations, the West Godavari District Collector for Kakinada and the District Forest Officer told NGT that there are no mangroves in the area.
The committee appointed by NGT has been asked to check the genuineness of the complaint with the help of satellite images of the forest cover maintained by the Forest Survey of India for six months prior to the filing of the application.
The committee has also been asked to identify whether the area in question was a mangrove forest subject to the provisions of Coastal Regulation Zone Notifications 2011 and 2019.
“The government started felling mangroves in January. Until then it had much greenery and backwater. Within four months, almost 90 percent of the mangroves have been lost. Mangroves have been buried under the sand and mud,” said a local activist who has been living in Kakinada for decades.
During the development of the Kakinada port in 1996, this land was allotted to the port authority. However, the government later took it back to construct free homes for the homeless. This area is almost 15 km from the Coringa sanctuary.
Despite the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the district administration has continued with construction activities.
“According to the lockdown protocol, no private or government body is supposed to indulge in construction activities. However, the district administration with local MLA started leveling the ground. Telangana High Court has taken a suo moto notice of the case and stayed the construction,” said Bolisetty.
Nandini Salaria, District Forest Officer for East Godavari told Newsmeter, “It is not a notified forest area. So we don’t know if they were mangroves. And the matter is sub-judice."
This story was produced following a workshop EJN hosted in Kakinada in March 2020. It originally appeared in Newsmeter on May 13. This version has been edited for clarity.
Banner image: Courtesy of Sentinel-2