Bombay High Court: Govt, citizens both obliged to preserve natural resources

Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court on Friday held the state government is enjoined with duty to preserve natural resources and historical values. The HC held citizens equally responsible for protecting the environment. A division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla accordingly directed the Maharashtra government and Mumbai Suburban Collector to take over the possession of the Kandivli-based Khajuria Lake.

The bench pronounced the ruling while disposing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Pankaj Kotecha, accusing the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for causing the disappearance of the nearly 100-year-old Khajuria Lake in Kandivli by constructing illegal structures under the pretext of beautification. He claimed it was done at the behest of BJP MLA Yogesh Sagar.

In its judgment, the bench said, “Forests, tanks, ponds, hillocks, mountains are nature’s bounty, which maintain the delicate ecological balance and thus, needed to be protected as these are essential for a healthy environment and for enabling people to enjoy a quality life which is the essence of the right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

“Thus, it is the obligation of the State to ensure that the lakes must continue to exist and cannot be filled up for carrying out so called beautification work which leads to their disappearance. It is thus, equally the duty of every citizen of India to protect forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, which are essential for a natural environment,” the bench added.

The bench took a note of contentions that BJP MLA Yogesh Sagar was responsible for the conversion of the lake into a municipal garden in collusion with BMC and that an amount of over Rs 5 crore of public money was used for construction of the municipal garden.

“The State being a trustee on behalf of the people, is enjoined to protect and preserve the natural resources which would include water bodies such as lakes. We find that in the present case, the government has failed in its duty as trustee to protect and preserve the lake for the benefit of the public who were entitled to uninterrupted use thereof. We are of the view that the government has failed to take action against those concerned for the illegal construction,” the bench said.

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