Bombay HC asks if due process followed in allotting land for Mumbai Metro car shed

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court today directed the Maharashtra government to file a reply clarifying whether due process had been followed in allotting around 25 hectares of land in Aarey Milk colony for the construction of a car shed for Mumbai Metro III. A bench of justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre also asked the state government and the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to tell the court about the extent of ecological damage that the construction work for the proposed car shed is likely to cause.

It directed the state to file its reply by March 1. The court was hearing a public interest litigation challenging a notification of the state government through which, in August 2017, around 25 hectares of land in Aarey colony was allotted for the construction of a car shed and allied services for the Mumbai Metro III (Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ) project. The petitioners claimed that earlier the plot was reserved as a no development zone. However, the state’s 2017 notification permitted an amendment in the development plan to pave the way for the car shed.

The construction for the same was likely to destroy extensive green cover and cause much ecological damage, the petitioners said. The MMRC, however, filed an affidavit in the high court today stating that it had followed due procedure in taking over the land concerned. It also told the court that it would ensure that the damage caused to the green cover because of the proposed construction work was restricted to the minimum.

The bench, however, asked the MMRC to explain what it meant by minimum damage. “What is your standard for minimum and maximum damage? What kind of construction work will be undertaken for the car shed? You will need to construct a parking shed, an office block, and some related infrastructure. What kind of ecological damage will all this cause?” it said.

When the bench asked the state government for its opinion, it submitted that its stand was similar to that taken by the MMRC in its affidavit. This prompted the bench to ask, on a lighter note, whether “the state was running the Mumbai Metro, or the Metro was running the state government?” “We just want to know whether due process was followed in de-notifying this land. File your reply, clarify your stand. The public is entitled to know whether due process was followed or not,” the bench said.

“Also, for how long will this construction work go on? Today, it takes at least two hours to reach anywhere in Mumbai courtesy you (MMRC),” the bench said, referring to the traffic woes due to the ongoing Metro III construction work. “Everything is dug up. We wonder whether at the end of all this, will any bit of Mumbai be left, or will we be left only with Mumbai Metro,” the bench said. The bench also asked the state government why the petitioners’ request of shifting the car shed project to a vacant plot in Kanjurmarg could not be complied with.

The petitioners, some NGOs and activists, had alleged that a suitable alternative plot was available in Kanjurmarg. The state’s counsel A Y Patki, however, told the bench that the Kanjurmarg land was under litigation and pursuing the same would significantly delay the Metro project. He said that in 2016, the state had appointed a committee to look into suitable options for the car shed.This committee had considered the Kanjurmarg plot, too, and after due consideration of all factors, recommended that the plot in Aarey be used for the same.

“The state then invited suggestions and objections from the public and followed due process under the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act in de-notifying the Aarey land for the construction work,” Patki said. “While initially some commercial work had also been planned at the car shed plot, we decided to use the land only for the car shed and allied services in order to minimise ecological damage,” Patki told the high court.

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