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Friday, September 17, 2021

Bombay HC seeks progress report on handover of mangrove land to Forest Department

The direction came on a PIL by NGO Vanashakti which claimed that the authorities did not comply with the HC’s 2018 order in which it had directed all mangrove areas to be transferred to the Forest Department.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
August 3, 2021 3:01:42 pm
Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) area mangrove. (File Photo)

The Bombay High Court Monday directed various authorities including the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) to submit a progress report pertaining to the handing over of mangrove land to the state Forest Department. Other authorities mentioned in the directive include the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Konkan region Divisional Commissioner and the Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Vanashakti which had claimed “willful negligence” by the authorities to facilitate misuse of large stretches of mangrove land for vested interests. The NGO sought transfer of nearly 1,600 hectares of the land to the Forest Department.

Observing that the transfer of land is in progress, the court said, “We are inclined to grant time to the respondents to report the extent of progress made for the same during the next three months,” and sought further affidavits in reply from the authorities.

The PIL claimed that the authorities did not comply with the high court’s September 2018 order in which it had directed all mangrove areas to be declared forests and transferred to the Forest Department.

Seeking directions to immediately initiate the handover, the PIL claimed that while nearly 15,311.7 hectares of mangrove land came under the ambit of the 2018 order, only 13,716.73 hectares were transferred to the department. The transfer of 1,594.97 hectares remains to be carried out.

It was submitted that the chief conservator of forests had reminded the authorities regarding non-compliance of the 2018 order but to no avail, which prompted the NGO to move the high court. The petitioner has also sought initiation of contempt proceedings against errant authorities.

The State Revenue and Forest department, in its affidavit in reply to the PIL, submitted that it has been “diligently pursuing the issue of notifying and transferring possession of government/public agency owned mangrove land to the Forest Department” and will continue to comply with the court order. The affidavit said that 14,299.64 hectares have already been handed over to the department.

The bench noted that Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), the petitioner on the basis of whose plea the high court had passed the order on September 17, 2018, has not approached the court with any grievance. “…despite not being parties to the earlier proceedings, it is found that the petitioners (Vanashakti) had issued notices threatening the respondents with contempt.”

Appearing for Vanashakti, advocate Zaman Ali submitted that the PIL jurisdiction was invoked since they lacked the locus standi to initiate proceedings for contempt.

The court said it was taking up the matter due to concern over securing compliance with the 2018 order. “…the above direction is made not because the petitioners by their research have placed relevant facts and figures, but out of the concern we have to secure compliance of the directions of the coordinate bench passed in PIL filed by the BEAG,” the bench clarified and adjourned the hearing to November 15.

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