Taking note of Mumbai's burgeoning electricity demand, the Bombay High Court, earlier this month, allowed Tata Power to chop down mangroves between Kalwa and Salsette, so that it can construct its transmission line.
The court reasoned that the project was in public interest and thus allowed the company to destroy 477 mangroves spread over a 50-meter tract.
A bench of Justices Amjad Sayed and Abhay Ahuja was hearing the company's petition seeking a direction to the authorities to allow it to implement the 220 KV transmission line project between Kalwa and Salsette, pursuant to the permissions granted to it under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
According to Tata Power, the city's current power generation is 1,877 MW whereas the power demand is 3,800 MW. The gap of about 2,000 MW is bridged by procuring power from outside Mumbai through transmission lines connected with the State grid.
"Due to the upcoming infrastructure projects, the power demand is expected to further increase, which can lead to shortage. Many of the generating plants located in
Mumbai are more than 25 years old and are ageing fast. Therefore, there is urgent need in public interest to augment the existing 110 KW transmission line by connecting Kalwa to various generating stations," the company claimed.
It cited a judgment of the High Court authored by Justice Abhay Oka (who is now a judge in the apex court) on the issue of preservation of mangroves, wherein it was held that for any development work if the mangroves are to be removed then special permission should be taken from the HC, apart from other green clearances.
Taking note of the facts of the case, the bench said, "Both development and environment must go hand in hand; in other words, there should not be development at the cost of environment and vice versa, but there should be development while taking due care of environment."
"Mangrove eco systems play a vital role and if a citizen is to lead a meaningful life, as contemplated by Article 21 of the Constitution of India,
they will have to be protected. The destruction of mangroves and the failure of the State to take steps for their restoration will amount to violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution," the bench added.
The judges further said that electricity is an essential service and a basic pre-requisite for modern day living.
"Considering the industrial growth and the need to provide livelihood to the growing population, a balance would have to be struck between development and protection and conservation of environment," the bench said.
"Therefore, the need is for sustainable development, where both the needs of development and economy, on the one hand, and protection and conservation of the Environment, on the other, are balanced," the bench added.
The judges further accepted the undertaking that the company would plant 5,000 saplings in lieu of destruction of 477 mangroves.
"In our view, the transmission line between Kalwa and Salsette is a necessary project for public good and of bonafide public utility," the judges held.
They further added, "We accordingly direct the authorities to permit the company to execute the proposed transmission line in mangrove area and its buffer zone.’’