Bombay High Court Halts Work On Mumbai Coastal Road, Asks BMC To Seek Fresh Environment Approval
The Bombay High Court today set aside the clearance granted to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for the Mumbai coastal road project by the Coastal Regulatory Zone Authority and the central government, while ordering that construction work be halted.
Hearing the Mumbai coastal road case, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice NM Jamdar also:
- Quashed approvals granted by Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority and Environment Approval Committee in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. It also quashed the project approval granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in May 2017.
- Directed BMC to obtain environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment in accordance with the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
- Ordered BMC to obtain permission for the Mumbai coastal road project under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- Directed that environment impact assessment must be done for the Mumbai coastal road project in entirety and not in parts.
CRZ Notification In December 2015 Upheld
The petitioners, comprising non-governmental organisations and fishermen associations, had challenged legal validity of the December 2015 amendment to Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, which permitted for the first time construction of roads in coastal regulated zones.
The notification stipulated such construction must be in exceptional cases only. The Bombay High Court today held this notification was constitutionally valid and didn’t violate the Environment Protection Act.
The court said it must strike a balance between conservation and human development, viewing them as interlinked aspects. Challenge to delegation of powers to the CRZ authority by the central government was rejected, it said, as such delegation didn’t suffer from any arbitrariness.
On The Project Being An Exceptional Case
The approval to the Mumbai coastal road project was challenged by petitioners on grounds that there was no exceptional case made out by BMC for the construction of a coastal road. In its defence, counsel for the civic body and Ministry of Environment said the present case was exceptional because:
- Construction of coastal road on reclaimed land was the most cost-effective option.
- The road would help in reducing air pollution and resultant medical problems.
- Construction on land reclaimed from sea was necessary as any other method could result in slower movement of traffic, increasing air pollution.
The court disagreed with the government’s submissions on the following grounds:
- The Mumbai coastal road project didn’t receive an environmental clearance under EIA (environmental impact assessment) notification, 2006. The government failed to consider a detailed report on the environmental impact.
- The reports of the joint technical committee which were relied upon by the environment ministry for granting clearance were prepared without a complete and exhaustive analysis of the situation.
- No reasons were given by BMC for rejecting objections raised by NGOs. There was a lack of a proper and scientific study.
It’s obvious that a serious lacuna in the decision-making process has occurred. We accordingly hold that there is lack of proper scientific study and this has been overlooked by Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, Environment Impact Assessment committee and Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Permission Under Wildlife Act
The Bombay High Court held that the Mumbai coastal road would pass through an ecologically sensitive area and commencement of project without prior permission by the BMC wasn’t in accordance with the law. It directed the civic body to obtain permission for the project under the Wildlife Protection Act from Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Project History and Impact
The 20-km Mumbai coastal road has been controversial since it was mooted in 2011 by former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Chavan’s successor Devendra Fadnavis went ahead with its execution.
If the project goes ahead, there won’t be any catch left along the rocky shores of the city, BloombergQuint’s conversations with fishermen and the native communities living along the coastline had revealed.