Kakinada mangrove forest issue: We are just a month away from celebrating the International Mangrove day on July 26, but are we really in a mood for celebration? Contrary to what the newspapers would tell us, the pandemic is not the only thing we need to worry about. Destruction of forests is happening right under our nose, which is going unnoticed by many simply because of the immediacy of COVID – 19. Well, let us remind you if not more, the issue of deforestation is equally important as the virus.
Let us give you an update about what is happening to the mangrove forests in the Kakinada region in Andhra Pradesh. Close to the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, is located a mangrove dense mangrove forest that provides livelihood to at-least 50,000 fishermen from 18 villages around it. Over the past months, this land has been levelled to provide housing to the poor according to the “YSR Pedalandiriki Illu’ scheme under the CM Jagan Reddy.
It has been noted that the levelling work became pretty heavy-duty during the months of the lockdown, according to some fishermen leaving around the mangrove. The fishermen are deeply disturbed about the destruction of these forests, as the disappearance of the mangroves translates to the disappearance of their livelihoods. The News Minute has reported that the High Court was moved by an associate of the Matsyakara Parirakshana Samithi (Fishermen’s Protection Committee), a man called Chodipalli Sathish. The fishermen have a bone to pick with the current government, not only have they been deprived of the various kinds of fish including shrimp, crab, etc. found in the saltwater creek, but cannot dock their boats in the creek anymore.
The fisherfolk aren’t the only ones who are affected. The mangrove forest was a shelter for a lot of biodiversity and also as a protective cover from various cyclones and storms. There has been a lot of contention about this 120 acre land around the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary. The News Minute reported that the. East Godavari District Collect D. Muralidhar Reddy said that the levelled land is not a protected area under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CZR). But this claim was contested by the state co-convener of INTACH because Forestation happens naturally when there is saline soil. Thus, even though this land is a few kilometres away from the Coringa wildlife sanctuary, but can be considered an extension of the Mada forest which comes under the Coastal Regulation Zone.
A petition was filed by Bolisetty Satyanarayanan, the general secretary of the Jana Sena Party which argued that the destruction of the mangrove land violated the CZR Notification, 2011, and 2019, the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Biological Diversity Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. This issue became politically heated up as Chandrababu Naidu of the Opposition party tweeted against Jaganmohan’s government’s decision to destroy the forests and started a trending hashtag “#SaveMadaForestfromJagan”. He also went on to say “The wanton felling of mangrove forests at Kakinada and indiscriminate sand mining were examples of YCP rule’s destructive activities. A large number of trees were destroyed in a radius of many kilometres around LG Polymers following the gas leak tragedy,”
Environmental Activists have also said that the housing facilities that will be made replacing the mangrove forests won’t be as steady and might even be prone to flooding. Let us remind you of what happened in Chennai when the Chennai Floods destroyed the city in 2015. One of the main causes of the floods was the excessive building projects that were taking place on mangrove creeks. “Kakinada has the second-largest mangroves in India. Are we going to replay the past? 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, environment ecologist Rajashekar Tummala.
The National Green Tribunal has formed a five-member joint committee to investigate the matter. “The Andhra Pradesh High Court has ordered a status quo on construction activity, the order has to be complied with by the local administration,” senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Upadhyay, who appeared in the NGT on behalf of Satyanarayana (The petitioner) said.
A trade-off between the environment and development seems to be a recurrent one in many parts of India. The Kamraj Project has started another building assignment in Ennore’s mangrove creek even after knowing very well that that area is prone to floods. Similarly, in the name of development, many such projects have been undertaken without taking into account the collateral damage it would do to the environment.
Listed below are some reasons as to why we must protect our mangrove forests.
Firstly, they are natural coast defence. They help form natural barriers against violent forms of surges and floods. Land sediment is trapped by the roots, which protects coastline areas and slows erosion, it also prevents sediments from reaching coral reefs. These are special defences for communities at risk from sea-level rises and severe weather events caused by climate change. Secondly, they are carbon sinks by reducing the carbon footprint of the world. Thirdly they provide livelihoods to lots of people living around the mangrove area, like in the case of Kakinada, the fishermen. Plant extracts from mangrove trees are also used for medicines, and leaves are utilized as fodder. Mangroves are hotbeds for biodiversity, a huge population of crabs, fish, shrimp, and mollusks live here. They are also a potential source for undiscovered biological material like anti-bacterial compounds.
Mangroves are an essential part of our ecosystem and we must do the best to conserve them. A fisherman from the Trang province of Thailand has rightly said “If there are no mangrove forests, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree with no roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea.”