An environmental activist has filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) challenging the allocation of a 10-acre plot for the construction of a Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy temple in a Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) at Ulwe in Navi Mumbai.
CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) had initially set up a temporary casting yard in a 19-hectare CRZ1 and 2 area, including 16 hectares of mangroves, which was supposed to be restored after the completion of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) project. However, CIDCO now seeks to convert this temporary landfill into a permanent reclamation.
Plot was designated as an eco-sensitive zone
B N Kumar, the director of NatConnect Foundation, who filed the application with the NGT, argues that the area was originally designated as an eco-sensitive zone, and the construction of a temple in this location could have adverse environmental consequences.
NatConnect Foundation presented Google Earth maps from 2018, taken before the casting yard was built in September 2019, which clearly showed mangroves, intertidal wetlands, and mudflats in the area. Furthermore, local communities used this region for fishing.
Advocate Ronita Bhattacharya confirmed that the application has been submitted to the NGT.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) in its 'Rapid Environment Impact Assessment' report to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) explicitly stated that the casting yards at Ulwe (Nhava end of MTHL) and Sewree were meant to be temporary.
Kumar emphasized that he is not against the temple project itself but believes it could be constructed in a more environmentally suitable area, rather than the current CRZ location. He also commended the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) for their environmental awareness initiatives and the ban on plastics.
The Institute of Remote Sensing (IRS) at Anna University, Chennai, commissioned by the TTD, reported that out of the 10-acre temple plot, 2,748.18 sq meters fall under CRZ1A, 25,656.58 sq meters in CRZ2, and 11,595 sq meters outside CRZ.
NatConnect Foundation noted that the CRZ clearance was given with the condition that CIDCO and TTD could use the CRZ2 part, subject to the finalization of the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) for Raigad district.
Biodiverity zone could get adversely affected
However, Kumar contended that the concession for development in CRZ2, as described in the CRZ notification, should not apply in this case, as it typically applies to areas that are already substantially built up and have infrastructure. He argued that the construction of the temple in this area could result in the destruction of a biodiversity zone.
Nandakumar Pawar, the head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, stated that the casting yard area was used for fishing by the local community not long ago. However, the MTHL project has restricted their access to this area, causing concern among the fishing community.
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