Sanjay Gandhi National Park – City's Lifeline
April 2010: The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) is the green lung of Mumbai and is responsible for 10 per cent of the city’s fresh water supply. Home to a stunning array of biodiversity – the park harbours 290 species of birds, 150 species of butterflies, over 1,000 flowering plants, 40 mammals and a host of reptiles and amphibians – SGNP or the Borivali National Park is a green oasis in this city of skyscrapers.
Yet, far from receiving protection for the multiple ecosystem services it provides, the park is continuously being exploited by politicians with vested interests. A large number of people live on the fringes of the park and over the years they have extended their settlements further and further into the forest. As per the Forests Right Act of 2006, indigenous people have a right to four acres of forest land provided they have been cultivating the land in question prior to December 13, 2005. People living urban lifestyles within the boundaries of SGNP have been taking undue advantage of the law – clearing the land of vegetation and drawing boundaries around parts to give the false impression that they have been farming there in the past. Groups like the Sharmjivi Sanghatane have been accused of helping them acquire documentation for the land at an asking price of Rs. 40 and while the Forest Department has been able to lodge cases against a few miscreants, they have been overwhelmed by the task on hand. Furthermore the groups are usually led by women – a hurdle for the male-dominated Forest Department that fears the allegations that might be registered against them if they take action. Already large-scale clearing has been observed in the Yeoor range (Beat Mira, Kavesar, Chena) and Nagla block and also in the tribal areas of Malad and Kandivili, supposedly led by the Jaag Sanghatana.
By allowing the decimation of SGNP to continue, the city is digging its own grave by exacerbating water shortages and releasing forest carbon into the atmosphere. Sanctuary asks its readers to write to the Governor and Chief Minister of Maharashtra and ask them to:
1. Speedily relocate settlements from within the SGNP by offering people fair terms for such a shift.
2. Tighten protection of the park.
3. Recruit women to join the Forest Department so that unscrupulous leaders do not use gender as a strategy to overcome resistance from male forest officials.
4. Run awareness programmes for local residents, including tribals and offer employment to those willing to protect forest lands.