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Bombay HC seeks central assistance to study impact of construction work on water sources

The court, while lifting the stay, however, had directed the authority to depute an officer to inspect the tank at the time when construction activity is on and provide a report before the court at the next hearing.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: March 10, 2021 9:15:46 am
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The Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought the central government’s assistance for Central Ground Water Board to ascertain the impact of construction activity in the vicinity of Banganga Tank, a grade-I heritage structure in South Mumbai, on natural water springs/sources that feed the tank. The court also expressed concerns that the tank might dry up if these water sources get destroyed. The court has also made CGWB a party to the case.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni on Tuesday was hearing a petition by ‘The Board of Trustees of the Temples Charitable Institutions and Funds of the Goud Saraswat Brahman Community’, which oversees the administration of Walkeshwar temple, and the heritage tank located in the temple’s vicinity.

The trust, through advocate Devendra Rajapurkar, had alleged that due to extensive construction activity by developers, the heritage structure is affected. It also claimed that the underground water flow to the tank is being contaminated on a daily basis due to inflow of muddy water, and that there is an accumulation of mud in the tank.

Last week, the court permitted the resumption of piling and construction activity by two developers in the vicinity of the tank at Walkeshwar temple, Malabar Hill, after it was informed by the state director of archaeology and museums that the allegations made by the temple trust pertaining to “severe impact” on the tank were incorrect.

The court, while lifting the stay, however, had directed the authority to depute an officer to inspect the tank at the time when construction activity is on and provide a report before the court at the next hearing.

“Perusal of the two reports that have been placed on record (by state archeology authority) does not reveal that as a result of the piling and construction activities presently undertaken by the two developers, represented by senior counsel Milind Sathe, flow of underground natural water to the tank shall not be obstructed or that the quality of the water thereof shall remain unaffected in future,” the HC noted on March 9.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Datta asked for assistance from Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and said, at present, the court did not see any reason to disbelieve two reports by the state archaeology authority that stated there was no contamination.

“But the issue does not rest there. We want a report from an expert body to ascertain after construction is completed, there will be no impact on the tank and natural flow of springs. We want a specific report to be made at a time when construction is on at full swing. The state authority may not be appropriate,” Chief Justice Datta said. On Tuesday, the state archaeological directorate submitted its second inspection report, as per the HC order. The HC, however, noted that the inspection was carried out during an interval in the construction.

The trust alleged that the developers had obtained permission to resume construction by misleading the court.

Justice Kulkarni said, “Archaeology and Museums Directorate might not be the correct authority. These are natural springs by virtue of which the Banganga tank survives. Now what is to be studied is from where the spring is coming and if the complete water supply is gone, Banganga will be a dead monument. It is a serious issue.”

“It should be studied by the authority which deals with spring water studies… It is a scientific study. We cannot be casual about this… Before we permit them (developers), we need to have some data on record…” Justice Kulkarni added. The court directed the CGWB to be made party to the case and asked Singh to take instructions from the central authorities, including Geological Survey of India, on modalities of the study.

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