The Veti-Varoti gram panchayat is one of at least 50 villages in the Dahanu talukas of Palghar district have opposed the MMRDA’s water purification plant project on the forest land. The purification plant is for the MMRDA’s Surya Regional Water Supply Scheme which seeks to draw water from the Surya Dam and the Kawdas pick-up weir across the Surya River. After this protest, it seems that the scheme may further delay and water scarcity in both the Municipal Corporations may rise.
The villagers opposed the development and mob reached the project area and stopped the work there on Friday.
Surya Regional Water Supply Scheme
MMRDA has undertaken Rs. 2500 crores for water supply to 27 villages, Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation(VVMC) and Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation(MBMC) area from the dam built on the Surya River in Palghar district. The project will supply 403 MLD (Million Litres per Day) of water. The government has decided to give a total of 131.57 acres of forest land in Thane and Palghar districts. It also includes salt pans. In which, 80 acres are reserve while 42 acres are protected forests land. There are 9.5 acres of private forests. Over 5 acres of land in the reserved forests is in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
On Monday, villager petitioned the Palghar collector opposing the MMRDA’s attempt to begin cutting trees on the land without the mandatory permission of the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA).
The predominantly tribal local residents say the dam, built originally for tribal farmland with funds from the Tribal Sub-Plan, has failed to meet its original objective of irrigating 14,696 hectares of their farms.
Earlier objection raise
A couple of years ago, when villagers started the protests against the project, the MMRDA did not have the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) permission. They had granted permission in September, last year. Sources said the MMRDA submitted its project to the DTEPA in 2018 for assessment, but no permission was granted. Meanwhile, a resident villagers’ group called the Surya Pani Bachao Sangharsh Samiti submitted to the DTEPA its opposition to the project, which is also pending.
However, Prakash Hadal, chairperson of Veti village’s Forest Rights Committee confirmed the villagers’ oppose and stall the MMRDA team. He said, “Yes, we stopped them from cutting the trees and demolition of structures built to house Surya dam site staff.”
“We will not allow this illegal cutting of trees. We’re already being harassed by the Forest department when we sow our paddy crop on land granted to us under the Forest Rights Act, now they’re also taking away our Community Forest Rights land,” said Hadal.
Cutting of the trees permission was granted by the Forest Department. Our job is to see the law and order situation. If MMRDA needs police protection, then that will be granted by the police. I sought the detail information from MMRDA in this regards. “Permission to cut the trees is given by the Forest department, any police protection the MMRDA needs is directly sought from the Superintendent of Police. The district administration’s role here is to see if there is a law and order problem, and since the villagers are saying they have some concerns, I will call for the details from the MMRDA,” said Kailash Shinde, Collector, Palghar.
What is DTEPA
The DTEPA was constituted in 1996 under the Environment (Protection) Act, five years after the region was notified as an ecologically fragile zone. While the court-appointed DTEPA, headed by a retired high court judge, has established itself as a model for independent ecological governance through stakeholder dialogue, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change told the Supreme Court in September 2019 that its functions could now be carried out by various other statutory authorities established since.
The apex court has not ordered the dissolution of the DTEPA as sought by the MoEF & CC. The DTEPA continues to function, although it has been without a head since the demise of Justice C S Dharmadhikari in January 2019.