The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has rapped the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for failing to explain procedures followed in relaxing of CRZ norms of wetlands in Kopri for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project. The wetlands at Kopri in Thane were reclassified and scaled down from CRZ 1 to CRZ 3.
The Tribunal had asked the state Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) committee to explain the reclassification of about 20 hectares, which, according to NGO Paryavaran Dakshata Manch that filed the petition, have been reclaimed for the project.
Sushilkumar Srivastava, scientist with MoEF, was called and was present, but was unable to explain the procedure to be adopted or that had been adopted for re-classification of the CRZ by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, the tribunal noted.
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In spite of giving the MoEF director a due explanation, no proper steps were taken, the tribunal stated.
“The lapses of the officers of MoEF cannot be attributed to anyone else but only to the internal arrangement and lack of co-ordination and communication between the departments and their officers. We are hopeful the director of MoEF will set the system in place… to make the functioning of the project viable,” the order stated.
The NGT directed that Srivastava be present with the relevant file at the next hearing and be prepared to give an affidavit regarding the procedure followed for re-classification of the CRZ area. “His casual approach to make a statement that he is unable to explain the procedure for re-classification of CRZ, in our opinion, should be taken note of by the Secretary of MoEF not withstanding the fact that Srivastava joined a new post only on July 15, 2015, yet, by the middle of August 2015, he was expected to be prepared with the subject,” the order stated.
The tribunal was hearing a petition in reference to the proposal for constructing an IT park in 140 acres, partly within limits of Thane district and partly within Mulund. The dispute relates to the area within Kopri (Thane), approximately 25.7 hectares.
The tribunal has asked the project proponent to submit an alternate plan in case the approved plan is to be pruned, following the orders. The area is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Bird Life International (UK).
The tribunal had earlier ordered an expert bird survey of the area. But despite the court order, which directs the company contracted to develop an SEZ to facilitate a survey without any hindrance, the researchers who visited the site alleged they were prevented from entering the area. “Dumping for the project is affecting vital inter-tidal habitats such as mangroves and salt pans. This is in addition to existing threats such as garbage dumping and other human encroachments,” said Atul Sathe, Manager, Communications, BNHS-India.