Updated: May 6, 2022 4:47:52 pm
In a setback to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Bombay High Court allowed PILs challenging the construction of a cycling and jogging track around Powai Lake as it was allegedly built in violation of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules and said the cycle track is illegal.
“In view of law as it stands, the work of cycling track is illegal and respondent BMC is restrained from carrying out any reclamation or construction work,” the High Court held.
The court also asked the BMC to immediately remove all constructions carried out and restore the reclaimed site to its original position and rejected BMC’s request to stay the operation of its judgment. It also said that the civic body can approach the Supreme Court.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice V G Bisht on April 25 had concluded the hearing in the pleas filed by Omkar Supekar and Abhishek Tripathi, two PhD researchers from IIT-Bombay who were represented by advocates Rajmani Varma and Prayushi Kapadia, along with a plea by NGO Vanashakti.
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The High Court had first stayed the construction of the project on November 1, last year, and the stay continued from time to time. The court, on April 25, extended the stay till the pronouncement of the verdict in the two PILs.
Supekar sought to restore the site to its original form with immediate effect, till the information on the cycle track project is made available in the public domain in its entirety, followed by an all-inclusive public hearing.
Supekar argued that the Powai Lake has a water spread area of 210 hectare and a catchment area of 6.61 square kilometre as per Central Institute of Fisheries Education. He added that in 2011, the National Wetlands Atlas was prepared by the Space Applications Center of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which was funded by the Union Environment and Forest Ministry and Powai Lake was notified as a wetland in the map.
He also said that the civic and state authorities have failed to respond to his RTI queries pertaining to the said project, prompting him to approach the High Court. Supekar said that there cannot be reclamation or damage to the heritage lake when the DCR clearly stated that there cannot be any construction within 100 metre of the water body.
“Construction activities carried out in the ecologically fragile wetland of Powai Lake are a serious threat to the protected and multiple endangered species of flora and fauna and there is no public information available on the ongoing construction activities at all, hence the application,” the petitioners said.
Senior advocate Gayatri Singh representing the NGO and its founder Dayanand Stalin argued that there is a crocodile park in the area and therefore permission from the National Wildlife Board (NWB) is also required. It added that the heritage clearance to the project had clearly stated that no reclamation or construction work of any kind should be allowed.
The BMC, which has undertaken the project, had refuted claims made in the PIL and stated that it is a man-made reservoir and hence, did not flout wetland norms. It had said that the project was in public interest and there was no breach of rules.
The civic body, through senior advocate Aspi Chinoy and advocate Joel Carlos, claimed that it was using the latest “gabion technology” to make the cycle track without any reclamation or construction work and the said technology consists of merely placing PVC coated galvanised iron wire mesh baskets containing stones of various sizes, without any joinery, fixing or cement mortar. The technology uses “porous” material and “does not prevent flow of water” during monsoons, the BMC said and denied contentions that the technology was dangerous to humans and the ecosystem.
The BMC had proposed constructing a cycling track around the Powai Lake as a part of its plan to have cycling tracks across the city. The project has come under opposition from residents and environmentalists, who have opposed the construction saying it will impact the habitat of the Indian marsh crocodiles.
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