The Bombay High Court Friday allowed the plea of National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL) for the felling of 21,997 mangrove trees in Mumbai, Palghar and Thane to clear the route for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project “in public interest” subject to various conditions.
The court asked NHSRCL to abide by its undertaking that it will strictly comply with all terms and conditions set out in the approvals of the projects and its assurances to the court. It refused a request by the NGO Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), an intervenor, to stay operation of its order.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Abhay Ahuja on December 1 reserved the order in a plea filed by NHSRCL in 2020, seeking to cut trees for the project. It had sought 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.
The bench was informed by advocates Pralhad Paranjape and Manish Kelkar, appearing for NHSRCL, that the number of mangroves to be felled has 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.
The NHSRCL had assured the court it would plant five times the total mangrove trees that were earlier proposed to be felled and the number would not be reduced for the same. The NHSCRL submitted that it paid the mangrove cell for the planting of nearly 2.5 saplings as a compensatory measure.
The plea stated that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (in its March 29, 2019, direction) had requested to shift the Virar and Thane stations of the project, which were supposed to be situated near the mangroves so that the number of affected trees could be reduced.
It added that as per the directions, the NHSRCL changed the alignment and shifted these stations, resulting in the requirement of removing only 21,997 mangrove trees, instead of the 53,467 proposed earlier. The corporation also said it has taken permission from all authorities concerned.
However, BEAG, also known as Conservation Action Trust, had objected to granting such a permission and said the 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.
The petitioner NHSRCL had denied the objections raised by the NGO and claimed that it had availed required approvals for the felling of trees for the project of public importance and would compensate the loss occurring due to the same by planting of saplings as undertaken, which the court accepted.