This Article is From Sep 18, 2016

How Kapil Sharma's Tweets Could End Up Helping Mumbai's Mangroves

Comedian Kapil Sharma faces charges of injuring mangrove habitat, activists want stiff penalities.

Mumbai: A week after his tweets about alleged corruption in Mumbai's municipal corporation triggered a major controversy, comedian Kapil Sharma faces at least one police complaint for alleged violation of building norms resulting in destruction of mangrove habitat.

Environmental activists are hoping that some of the attention that the controversy has generated will help to underline the plight of the city's mangroves, which provide it with much needed protection from floods.

Mangroves, with their spongy roots, act as a natural defense against flooding.

Satellite images of Mumbai, taken between 2002 and 2011, show just how much of its mangrove cover the city has lost in the last decade. Areas around the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli link road, for example, once a thriving mangrove habitat are now completely urbanized.

In Lokhandwala, in another part of the city, dumping of concrete debris has devastated mangrove growth in the area.

"About 17-18 years ago, this area was completely lush with mangroves. It has been completely flattened now," said Andheri resident Sumesh Lekhi. He is part of a citizens initiative fighting back to reclaim the city's green cover.

But without active government support, citizens' initiatives have limited impact.

Take the case of Dahisar, where activists managed to get a court order prohibiting illegal dumping by builders. A decade after the court's intervention activists once again had to ask it to step-in, this time against government agencies which allegedly allowed builders to continue breaking rules.

"Between 1996 and 2000 several complaints were filed against builders. Then even the High Court had to pull-up the government asking how fresh violations were continuing every day?" D Stalin, who works with the conservation group Vanashakti, told NDTV.

However, Mumbai's Mangrove Conservation Unit dismisses allegations of looking the other way as builders break rules.

"We registered 107 cases of encroachment on mangrove habitats, and have acted against 3000 violators. We have not even spared government agencies like the municipal corporation and government housing society," senior conservation officer Makarand Ghodke told NDTV.

According to the state government Mumbai's mangrove cover has increased in the past two years. But with continued pressure on its natural habitats, activists wonder whether it is too little, and too late.