Cross the Kalamukku Junction of the Vypeen road in Kochi and you are in the Cochin Port Trust area. That’s when you see the mangrove forests on either side of the road.
Water-logged areas with several patches of land in between abound in these forests. Look closely and you can spot hundreds of withered trees completely shorn off all branches with not even a leaf on them.
For those not familiar with mangroves, one is not sure whether this is how mangroves are supposed to look... are dry patches and atrophied trees part of such a marshy landscape?
Madhu, a fisherman who lives nearby, says, “Since the last many years, there have been many lorries sneaking in here in the dead of the night to dump all sorts of construction waste. All the chemicals and other harmful matter present in such waste have probably gradually been mixing with the soil here. It was only after the trees here gradually started drying up, that we noticed this unusual phenomenon.”
And it is not just the private players that are culpable of this crime. Even the state government’s own Kochi Metro recently dumped debris from their ongoing project here.
In addition to this, soil and rocks dug out of other areas too end up getting dumped here which has been gradually transforming the marshy wetland into dry land.
“You are not supposed to destroy mangroves. No sort of construction is permitted in such areas as per the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Act. Blatant cutting of trees here will not be allowed by the locals. So these guys have now found a roundabout way to overcome this legal hurdle,” says Advocate Charles George, an environmental activist who has been pursuing action against the Port Trust on the matter.
Madhu adds that hectares of mangroves have been destroyed till date with very little remaining.
“The area falls within the premises of the Port and since no one uses this stretch to commute daily, it obviously escapes notice. They dump the mud near the mangroves. When people begin to see the shrivelled trees, most are simply baffled,” he rues.
“I seriously doubt whether Kochi would be able to withstand a major flood because it is Nature’s defence in such a scenario that is now being destroyed,” says Charles grimly.
He argues that the pattern of destruction of the mangrove forests matches the way some islands in and around Kochi have been depopulated in the past.
“Whatever is dredged out from lakes is dumped on these islands where there are scattered human settlements. The naive islanders do nothing to prevent this, because the authorities give them the impression that the excavated mud will keep the island safe from floods. Since most of the folks living in such areas are fishermen with hardly any education, naturally they fall for such fallacious arguments,” Charles elaborates. Once the area becomes unlivable, the locals are left with no option but to move home. At which point the land becomes available for new construction projects.
Based on a petition filed by Charles against the Port Trust in 2014, the District Court ordered the Forest Department to take cognisance of the situation. The Forest Department carried out an inspection of the dumping site and registered a case against the Port Trust, and issued two notices demanding an explanation from the Port Trust. However, the case has failed to progress since. Meanwhile, the teeming life in the mangroves dies a slow death unseen by the otherwise prying eyes of humanity.
The Port Trust was unavailable for comment on the issue despite numerous attempts to contact them.