As Bombay HC stops BMC’s coastal road project, petitioners hail order’s focus on environment

The Bombay high court’s order stopping work on the coastal road is a landmark judgement that could set a precedent for environmental cases in India, said petitioners, environmentalists and fisherfolk who challenged the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC)project.

“We are dealing with an environmental issue,” a division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice NM Jamdar said, while accepting the petitioners’ plea — that reclaiming coastal land and carrying out construction work will irreversibly damage the coastline, destroy major marine habitats, and affect the livelihood of fishermen.

The HC specifically noted that the project would harm corals along the coast, and quashed permissions given by Central and state agencies under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification. “Notwithstanding the fact that corals presence is minuscule, the same shows the ecosystem in the area is conducive to the corals… we hold the BMC could not have commenced work without obtaining permission under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972,” the order read. It has asked BMC to also get clearances under the Environmental Impact Assessment, 2006.

“It is a big win for environmental law in the country, as the HC’s order highlights the massive procedural and substantive defects on the part of our environmental bureaucracy,” said Zaman Ali, an advocate representing one of the petitioners.

The BMC had planned the Rs 14,000-crore coastal road from Marine Drive to the Worli end of the Bandra-Worli sea link. During hearings, the BMC said the project was proposed as an eight-lane highway, to cut travel time to the western suburbs by 70%. Petitions against the project were filed from across the city, and first among them was a plea from the Worli fishing community in December 2018 pointing out the project would cost 600 fishermen their livelihood. “Although the fishing community would have been affected the most, BMC has been dismissive of their concerns,” said advocate Meenaz Kakalia, who represented them. “The past seven months since work began has been a distressing time for the community, as fishing grounds have already been destroyed,” said Kakalia.

Petitions were also filed by NGOs such as Society for Improvement, Greenery And Nature (SIGNATURE), Conservation Action Trust (CAT), Vanashakti, architect Shweta Wagh and Worli resident Prakash Laxman Chanderkar. “We thank the judiciary for this verdict. We stood by our belief that truth will always win, and this has come through,” Dr Nilesh Baxi, founder, SIGNATURE.

Seventy-five residents of Tata Gardens at Bhulabhai Desai Road also opposed the project as it involved cutting 200 trees. The residents demanded the road’s alignment be altered so green cover in the area was not disturbed. Environment group CAT, led by Debi Goenka, was the first to highlight that environment and wildlife clearances had not been taken for the project. “The BMC was treating the project as a CRZ1b category, while the presence of corals always made it CRZ1a (where no reclamation or construction is allowed). We reiterate that the project benefits only 2% of four-wheeler owners but it is being funded by all citizens,” said Goenka.

Architect Shweta Wagh said the BMC did not undertake sufficient studies to assess the environmental impact of a “project of such magnitude”. Wagh said, “The studies undertaken were grossly inadequate, providing superficial mitigation measures. BMC also said since a CRZ clearance was acquired, an EC was not needed. As an EC requires public consultation, the BMC wanted to bypass the procedure.” She said three Olive Ridley turtles were rescued from the project zone too.

Vanashakti said commitment to conserve nature while pursuing development projects needs to come from all project proponents. “We continue to needlessly lose our ecologically important areas to a warped model of development propagated by the government,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti

First Published:
Jul 17, 2019 06:56 IST

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