Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday allowed the National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL) to cut 21,997 mangroves in Mumbai, Thane and Palghar to make way for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project “in public interest”, subject to various conditions.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Abhay Ahuja has directed the NHSRCL to strictly abide by its undertaking and comply with all terms and conditions set out in the approvals of the projects and its assurances given to the court.
The court, however, refused to stay its order as requested by the NGO Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), an intervenor.
The HC passed the judgment in a petition filed by NHSRCL in 2020 seeking permission to cut over 53,000 trees for the project.
On Dec 1, while reserving the order in the petition, the HC had asked the NHSRCL to reduce 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 Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (in its March 29, 2019, direction) had requested it to shift the Virar and Thane stations of the Bullet train, which were supposed to be situated near the mangroves, so that the number of affected mangroves could be reduced.
As per the directions, the NHSRCL changed the alignment and shifted these stations. This resulted in it being required to remove only 21,997 mangrove trees, instead of the 53,467 as proposed earlier. The corporation also said it has taken permission from all authorities concerned.
It assured the court that it would plant 2.5 times the total mangrove trees that were earlier proposed to be felled, and the number would not be reduced for the same. It also said that it paid the mangrove cell for the saplings as a compensatory measure.
BEAG, also known as the Conservation Action Trust, intervened in the plea opposing the felling. It said that the NHSRCL cannot use explosives for construction in the prohibited area and relaxation for such activities should not be granted. Also, it contended that study was not undertaken about the survival rate of saplings to be planted as a compensatory measure and the Environmental Impact Assessment report for felling trees was not provided.
However, the corporation denied BEAG’s objections and claimed that it had acquired necessary approvals for the project of public importance and would compensate for the loss.
According to the petition, in Maharashtra, the land required is over 438hectares, of which 121hectares falls under forests and land, with mangroves on 32.4hectares. The “actual land under mangroves which is going to be affected” stands at 13.3hectares. On the land with mangroves, over 8hectares would have a tunnel underground.
(If you have a story in and around Mumbai, you have our ears, be a citizen journalist and send us your story here. )