THE NATIONAL Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the environment ministry to take an independent decision within three months on reclassifying land in the ecologically-sensitive area of Kopri in Thane which was being reclaimed for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The NGT has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to examine the land measuring around 20 hectares which had been reclassified and scaled down from CRZ-I to CRZ-III after which a developer had begun construction in the area. The NGT questioned whether the MoEF could alter the Coastal Zone Management Plan to scale down the ecologically-sensitive zone.
“In our opinion, reclamation of land is likely to cause destruction of mangroves, salt pans and will endanger environment. Therefore, the entire exercise of such reconversion or reclassification will have to be re-looked by the MoEF,” the order states.
The application filed before the NGT by the NGO Paryavaran Dakshta Manch had claimed that they had come across development of buildings in the name of Sun-stream city private limited was being done in prohibited areas and debris was being dumped in the natural flow of seawater and the wetlands. They had also alleged that mangroves were being trampled and destructed due to transportation over the wetlands.
The NGO’s contention was that since the land falls within the category of CRZ-I, there is a legal prohibition of any kind of development on it. The area in question which had been marked as a ‘wetland’ in the central government’s map is also shown to be flood-prone in the disaster management plan. The NGO had appealed to the NGT to restore the wetlands and to declare Thane creek as a wetland park or to conserve it.
The MoEF had informed the NGT during the course of the hearing of the application that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) had approved the proposal to set up the SEZs in the contiguous areas of Kopri and Mulund (E). The order states that the reclassification was done at the instance of the project developers.
“The letter communication (between the MCZMA and the MoEF) does not give any substantive reasons for classification of the property as CRZ-III from CRZ-I…except and save what the PP (project proponent) demonstrated to MCZMA,” the order states. The order further states that the state government, through MCZMA, had no authority to change the Coastal Zone Management Plan.