HC asks BMC to stop all reclamation work, maintain status quo

MUMBAI : The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said it’s April 16 order, asking the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to “maintain status quo in respect of the reclamation work” of the coastal road project, will continue till June 3.

On the previous hearing, the BMC had informed the court that if the project is on hold, the state will incur a loss of Rs 10 crore per day. The High Court was hearing a petition filed by city-based architect Shweta Wagh and eight other petitioners, stating that the ongoing reclamation is not only illegal but will also irreversibly alter the coastal morphology, biodiversity and traditional ecological practices.

It also states that the coastal road and the ongoing reclamation works are in patent breach of the law on environment clearances, traditional rights and jurisdiction.

Senior Counsel Shrihari Aney, arguing for the BMC, informed the court that the BMC and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) have filed two separate affidavits. 

Following which, Senior Counsel Janak Dwarkadas for the petitioners sought time to file their rejoinder, seeking a hearing after the court vacation. Aney opposed the request stating that part of the work is completed and due to rough sea in the monsoon, the work will be washed away.

Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, as a suggestion, said they will consider allowing them to strengthen the work to ensure that it does not get washed away on condition that a commission will videograph the work and that such an application will have to be made to the court. Aney, however, said this will not be advisable at the moment.

An affidavit filed by Mohan Machiwal, Chief Engineer, BMC, said there is a need for the south coastal road as the existing infrastructure is overburdened by increasing traffic and there is no possibility of broadening existing roads, which lead North Mumbai to South Mumbai.

Machiwal added that Mumbai is the most car-congested city in India with approximately 510 cars for every kilometre of the road

On the allegation by the petitioner that the project does not have required permissions, the BMC in the affidavit said the amendment by a notification dated December 30, 2015, permits construction of the coastal road on reclaimed area and that this has been specifically incorporated in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification to accommodate the project.

The affidavit also states that on the second application made by the BMC to Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and MoEF, after considering various reports submitted by the BMC, the expert appraisal committee (EAC) concluded that the project is the need of the hour. The EAC noted that denying the recommendation to the project for CRZ clearance will not serve any “public interest and the social benefit outweighed the marginal impact likely to be incurred on the environment, which could be mitigated”.

The affidavit also states that the EAC recommended imposition of specific conditions which will ensure protection of the environment during the implementation of the project as well as securing the green belt that will be generated by the project.

An affidavit filed on the previous hearing by Suresh Adapa, a scientist at the MoEF, stated that while making its recommendations for CRZ clearance, the EAC of MoEF had carried out due diligence on social aspects of the project and accordingly granted CRZ clearance with specific conditions from the perspective of a social aspect.

It added that the specific conditions were the project proponent is required to periodically carry out studies through the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) during and after the construction of the coastal road to access the actual impact on human habitations and shore morphology of adjacent areas and shall report its findings and mitigating steps taken every six months to the MCZMA, the state pollution control board and the regional office of the ministry.

The BMC affidavits added that on the recommendation of the EAC, they have engaged the services of the NIO to carry out a continuous study of the coastal morphology and impact of the project on tidal behaviour