Bullet train project: Bombay HC asks NHSRCL to respond to objections from NGO against tree felling

The court said the NGO be made party to the case and asked it to file its objections through an affidavit as a reply to NHSRCL's plea seeking permission for felling the mangroves.

On March 19, the counsel for the police also submitted that the probe was handed over to the assistant commissioner of police and a chargesheet filed. (File photo)

The Bombay High Court on Monday asked National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL) to respond to objections raised by NGO Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) – also known as Conservation Action Trust – against felling of mangrove trees to clear the route for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project allegedly without environmental clearances.

The court said the NGO be made party to the case and asked it to file its objections through an affidavit as a reply to NHSRCL’s plea seeking permission for felling the mangroves.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a plea by NHSRCL seeking to bring down the number of trees needed to be felled for the project following a direction from the Union and state environment ministries and other authorities.

On February 23, the bench was informed by advocates Pralhad Paranjape and Manish Kelkar, appearing for NHSRCL, that the number of mangroves to be felled have been reduced to fewer than half (from 53, 467 to 21, 997) and sought permission to remove the trees in Thane, Mumbai and Palghar districts. NHSRCL assured the court it would plant five times the total mangrove trees that were earlier proposed to be felled.

The plea stated that Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (in its March 29, 2019, direction) had requested to shift Virar and Thane stations of the project, which were supposed to be situated near the mangroves, so the number of affected trees could be reduced.

It added that as per the directions, the NHSRCL has changed the alignment and shifted these stations. The corporation also said it has taken permissions from all authorities concerned.

However, the NGO on Monday objected to such a permission and said that NHSRCL cannot use explosives for construction in the prohibited area and relaxation for such activities should not be granted. The NGO, through advocate Sheetal Shah, also said that no study was undertaken about the survival rate of saplings to be planted as a compensatory measure and the Environmental Impact Assessment report for felling trees has not been provided.

Directing the NGO to file an affidavit in reply enumerating its objections to the felling of mangrove trees by Thursday, the court asked NHSRCL to respond to the same on Friday.

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