Fishermen living and working in the vicinity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Nhava Sheva, Uran, on Wednesday sought an urgent hearing from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to curb the reclamation of around 110 hectares of biologically active intertidal area for expansion of the port’s fourth container terminal. Activist and fisherman Nandakumar Pawar filed an interlocutory application (IA) before the tribunal on Wednesday, a copy of which has been reviewed by Hindustan Times. The area in question is a low-lying expanse of mudflats, frequented by traditional fishers from Mora Gaon, Gavan Koliwada, Belpada Gaon, Uran Koliwada and Hanuman Koliwada among others.

Pawar’s IA has been filed as part of a larger petition by Dilip Koli, spokesperson of the Paaramparik Machhimar Bachao Kruti Samiti in Uran, which argues that the area ought to be protected under Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) 1-A category, reserved for eco-sensitive regions like mudflats, as per the CRZ Notification 2011.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority (JNPA) acquired environmental and CRZ clearance for the project in October 2019, while reclamation activities began on April 17, 2022. JNPA had been cautioned earlier by the NGT to ensure that work does not cause damage to any CRZ-1A regions. However, as the Maharashtra State Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has still not demarcated CRZ-1A areas in the Raigad district’s Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) — as per the diluted CRZ Notification (2019) — local fisherfolk are constrained in proving their contention — that the NGT’s instructions have not been complied with by JNPA.

“Thousands of tonnes of mud and gravel have been dumped over the place where we could earlier find crabs, tiger prawns and lobsters in good quantity. It is a shallow place, where the sunlight reaches the ocean bed and promotes growth of vegetation, attracting fish to breed there,” said Koli. “Now, because of sedimentation from the reclaimed area, even the surrounding mudflats are seeing a decline in catch,” he added emphasising that JNPA’s work appears to be picking up speed, despite the matter being sub-judice.

“For the last two weeks, the reclamation work on the ecologically sensitive mudflat areas is being carried out at a break-neck speed. Most of the work is carried out in the cover of the night — approximately 100 trucks each filled with 15-18 tonnes of debris are seen at the site. Approximately 1,800 tonnes of debris is being dumped on the biologically active mudflat areas,” Pawar’s IA states, with geo-tagged pictures as evidence. On January 23, the NGT admitted a fresh petition by Koli challenging the port expansion, listing the matter for March 16, and giving the MCZMA and JNPA four weeks to file their responses.

“That is too much time. By the time the next court date rolls around, the reclamation work will be completed and this vital fishing ground will be completely buried, depriving hundreds, of food and livelihood. So, I have intervened in the application and am hoping that the matter will be taken up on an urgent basis by the honourable NGT,” Pawar said to HT over phone. “Previously, a tribunal-appointed committee had noted that work to expand the fourth container terminal at JNP would impact traditional fishing and instructed JNPA to avert this outcome. There has been no compliance of this at all,” he said.