THE BOMBAY High Court on Friday directed the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) to confine itself to felling mangroves in an area of only 200 sq m to build 10 pillars for the Bandra-Versova Sea Link. “Only fell the trees required to make pillars, nothing more than that,” Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said.
A bench of Chief Justice Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre was hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena seeking direction to cease destruction of mangroves in excess of two stretches — 150 sq m and 50 sq m — permitted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in 2013 and revalidated on February 2019.
The bench added that till the next hearing, no mangroves other than those on this 200-sq m land — permitted under the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 2011 — shall be felled.
Chief Justice Nandrajog further said that usually while granting clearance to projects, the “babus” (government officials) do not apply their mind.
In February, another HC bench had allowed the MSRDC to fell 1,585 mangroves to construct connectors to the sea link. A division bench of Justice B R Gavai and Justice N J Jamadar had allowed MSRDC’s petition, subject to the corporation filing an affidavit stating that it would abide by all terms and conditions imposed by the forest department, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority and the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).
Bhathena had challenged the HC order before the Supreme Court on the ground that 2.9907 hectare of mangrove forests are proposed to be felled by the MSRDC. The SC had recorded the issue and permitted Bhathena to approach HC again.
The petitioners on Friday told the court that the forest department had permitted the destruction of 2.9907 hectare of mangroves, which is a violation of the conditions imposed by the MoEF and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.
Arguing that it is inconceivable that 2.9907 hectare would be required for constructing stilts/pillars for the project, the petitioners argued that there is always some flexibility of distance between two stilts/pillars and the authorities can always design their stilts/pillars to minimise loss to the natural environment by overstepping the mangroves.