The arguments for and against the coastal road in Mumbai are long-drawn and expected to stretch over the week. At the end of the hearing in the case on Tuesday, however, the Bombay High Court sounded a word of caution for protection of the environment and Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said it with a caricature.
The image was that of a creature with a large head, detailed in pencil with several brain cells, small eyes, a long lose, short hands and legs drawn in blue ink. “You will need a large head…,” said Chief Justice Nandrajog, to make room for numerous brain cells but small eyes that may rarely move away from the computer screen. For the same reason he said, “Because you will always type, you will have small hands but long fingers. Short legs because you will not walk.” Explaining the creature’s long snout intricately inked on paper, he said, “The air will be so toxic and you will need a nose like this and food will be in capsules so you will need only a small stomach.”
Chief Justice Nandrajog shared this hand-drawn image on a ruled paper with a battery of senior counsels representing various stakeholders in the PILs towards the close of the petitioners’ counsel’s arguments heard over three hours on Tuesday.
Darius Khambata, counsel for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), called it the theory of evolution. The Chief Justice then asked, “Is that what you would want to evolve into?… Is this what you want your future generation to be?” Adjourning the case for the day, the Chief Justice parted with the image after Janak Dwarkadas, counsel for the petitioners, had argued over faulty, inadequate clearances and environmental perils of a project like the Coastal Road.
On Monday, the High Court started the final hearing in a bunch of PILs challenging the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Rs 14,000 crore coastal road project that will connect Nariman Point to Kandivali in two phases. The project was challenged by environmental groups, NGOs and activists including the Conservation Action Trust, Society for Improvement and Nature, architect Shweta Wagh and NGO Vanshakti and the Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Matsyavyavsay Sahakari Society.
As senior counsels including Dwarkadas and Khambata studied the image drawn by the Chief Justice, he explained to them why the creature he had drawn looked the way it did. He said that this is what humans could evolve into “if we don’t care for our environment”.
The petitioners were seeking directions to quash and set aside the decision of the BMC to implement the project and the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance granted to it on May 2017 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. While yellow barricades for the coastal road were erected at South Mumbai’s seafronts at the beginning of the year, in April, the Bombay High Court had restrained the corporation from reclaiming new land for the project and ordered a status quo. In May, after the BMC moved the Supreme Court, the High Court’s order was modified, allowing the BMC to proceed with the work that was already underway but not to undertake any fresh works. The apex court had also asked the High Court to hear the cases finally.
The final hearing in the cases started before a division bench of Chief Justice Nandrajog and Justice N M Jamdar on Monday. The hearing in the case will continue on Wednesday.
The proposed coastal road, the court was informed, is a project along Mumbai’s western sea front that aims at connecting Nariman Point in the South to Kandivali in the North through a 35.6 km of complex transportation network of roads, roads on stilts, tunnels and road on reclaimed surface.
The first part in the South stretching from Princess Street flyover to Worli entails land reclamation of 78 hectares and the northern part stretching from the Bandra end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link to Kandivali junction requires reclamation of about 78 hectares, the petitioners have submitted to the court. So far, the work only on the southern stretch of the road has begun.
The BMC, on the other hand, had said that in an affidavit filed in the court in May that there is a need for the south coastal road as the existing infrastructure is overburdened by increasing traffic and there is no possibility of broadening existing roads, which lead North Mumbai to South Mumbai.