The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed as non-maintainable the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2019, granting the petitioner the liberty to approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The court noted that as the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for Mumbai has been finalised, the petitioner, an NGO, could move the tribunal, which should expeditiously decide on the plea.
On Thursday, the court had reserved its order on the issue of maintainability of the plea.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik passed a ruling in a plea filed by NGO Vanshakti challenging the constitutional validity of the notification, claiming that the CRZ regulations “drastically reduced” protection granted to coastal areas by reducing No-Development Zone areas on the coast and, in turn, reduced the number of prohibited activities in the CRZ areas.
The petitioner NGO, through senior counsel Venkatesh Dhond and advocates Akash Rebello and Zaman Ali, also said that the 2019 notification reduced the limits of protected areas near tidally influenced water bodies and dispensed with the requirement of conducting an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for many construction activities.
The PIL claimed that the notification is “unconstitutional, manifestly arbitrary” and also violated the right to live in a healthy environment along with right to life with personal liberty.
The NGO said that some of the provisions in the notifications have already been struck down by the Supreme Court in its earlier rulings and are contrary to recommendations of various committees appointed by the central government to review the CRZ regime. The plea also stated that the provisions were in violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, were not part of the draft CRZ notification and were inserted later.
The PIL said the 2019 notification diluted essential components of Coastal Zone Maps and protection granted to mangroves, and increased Floor Space Index (FSI) in CRZ areas. It said the decision deleted special protection granted to traditional fisherfolk communities and special provisions related to CRZ areas in greater Mumbai.
“The unconstitutionality of the regulations is extensive, wide ranging, comprehensive and far reaching. Rather than protecting and improving the quality of the environment or preventing and controlling environmental pollution, the notification instead removes various protections which were present in CRZ 2011,” the plea said.
In light of this, the NGO sought directions to declare the 2019 notifications illegal, and the 2011 CRZ notification as binding on the respondent authorities.
The bench, in its order, noted, “The Tribunal’s jurisdiction to deal with environmental issues is so wide and expansive that literally speaking, ‘everything under the sun’ raising substantial question relating to environment can be dealt with by it…Regard being had to the wide contours of the Tribunal’s powers to address all concerns pertaining to environment, it would not be appropriate for us to entertain this writ petition.
“…No Court ought to interfere in respect of matters over which the Tribunal has jurisdiction, or else the very purpose for enactment of the NGT Act would stand defeated. The Tribunal would be better equipped to deal with all points of law and facts, which could be intricate, with the expert assistance that is available at its level.”
The HC also noted that while the CRZ notification was issued on January 18, 2019, the petition was filed on March 25, this year. “There is no explanation offered for the belated approach,” it said.
The bench held, “For the reasons aforesaid, we decline interference. The petition is dismissed. Since we have been informed that the CZMP has been finalised during the pendency of the petition, we grant liberty to the petitioners to pursue their remedy before the Tribunal in accordance with law.”