Coastal Road is not a dying need for Mumbai: High Court

Mumbai: Observing that it is not a ‘dying need’ for Mumbai, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday scrapped all the clearances the civic body had obtained for the Coastal Road, which proposes to connect South Mumbai and Kandivli.

The High Court said, the BMC cannot continue with the construction of the 29.2 km coastal road project, until it obtains the requisite green clearances. This is a major setback for the BMC, as it cannot proceed with its Rs 14,000 crore dream project.

A bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Nitin Jamdar noted the ‘serious lacuna’ in the decision-making process and the lack of application of mind, on the part of civic body, as well as central authorities, in granting permission for the project.

Notably, the authorities had decided to reclaim at least 90 hectares of land, of which only 20 hectares were allocated for the coastal road and the remaining 70 hectares were to be reserved for public use.

The bench noted that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), had failed to ascertain the environmental impact of the project.

“It is obvious that a serious lacuna in the decision-making process has occurred. The lacuna is that neither of the authorities independently applied their mind to see whether a proper scientific study was conducted on the project and what its impact would be on the ecology,” CJ Nandrajog noted.

“We therefore declare that the civic body cannot proceed with the works without obtaining an environmental clearance under the EIA notification, issued by the central government. Further, permission under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, should also be obtained before proceeding ahead,” the CJ ruled.

The judges were dealing with a bunch of petitions, filed by activists, non-governmental organisations and the fishing community, objecting to the coastal road project, as they argued that the project would damage the environment and also adversely impact the livelihood of fisher folk.

The judges, in their 219-page judgment, further noted that the coastal road project was not a ‘dying need’ of society, unlike jetties, harbours, ports and sea links.

“Building harbours, jetties, wharves, quays, slipways are a dying need and without them, inter-country trade would be severely hampered. Thus, the larger public interest is served by exempting these from the rule prohibiting reclamation of coastal land,” the bench noted.

The judges further trashed the contention of authorities that the coastal road is also a dying need for Mumbai, saying that it is a case of no-comparison, as ports and harbours have to be constructed or expanded only on the seashore and not in the hinterland.

Moreover, the damage to the environment caused by the sea links is minimal. The bench further junked the stand of BMC that the coastal road is an ‘exceptional’ project and thus the rules for reclamation do not apply to it.

“The exceptional case to be determined would be on the same principle which justifies ports, harbours, jetties, wharves, quays, slipways and bridges i.e. the dying need of society. The need has to be more than a crying need. It has to not be a need of convenience. It has to be a need based on exhausting all possible solutions,” CJ Nandrajog noted in his judgment.

As far as the grievances of fishermen are concerned, the HC in its judgment said that the fishing community can make representations at the time when BMC applies afresh for green clearance from the MoEF. The ministry, at the time of deciding the BMC plea, will have to hear and consider the prayer of fisher folk, the court has said.

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