Navi Mumbai: Environmentalist Challenges Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy Temple Project On Eco-Sensitive Zone

Navi Mumbai: Environmentalist Challenges Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy Temple Project On Eco-Sensitive Zone

Environmentalist BN Kumar explained that he is not personally against the temple project as such, but it could be built in an environmentally safer area rather than the present CRZ.

Amit SrivastavaUpdated: Thursday, November 30, 2023, 08:19 PM IST
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FPJ

Navi Mumbai: Taking up for hearing an environmentalist’s plea against the alleged CRZ violation in Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy temple project at Ulwe in Navi Mumbai, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has served notices on the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Chief Conservator of Forests to file reports on the status of construction of the project.

City-based environmentalist BN Kumar has moved the NGT’s western zonal bench challenging the allotment of a 10-acre plot for the temple which is part of a 19-hectare on a temporary landfill done for the casting yard of the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL).

Environmentalist questions the current plot status

Kumar, who also heads NatConnect Foundation, questioned the conditional CRZ recommendation granted by MCZMA for the temple without considering the fact that the temple plot area was an ecologically sensitive mangrove, inter-tidal wetland and mudflat zone five years ago before the casting yard came up.

MCZMA noted that of the total 40,000 sqm (roughly 10 acres) temple plot, 2,748.18 sqm is under CRZ1A, 25,656.58 sqm in CRZ-2 while 11,595 sqm is outside CRZ.

The Authority recommended a conditional approval restricting the construction to only outside the CRZ. There was, however, no evidence of the mandatory clearance from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), applicant’s counsel Ronita Bhattacharya pointed out to the NGT Bench.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have already performed the ground-breaking ceremony for the temple five months ago. Two Havan Kunds were also built on the plot.

Advocate Bhattacharya quoted a forest department’s inspection report which pointed out the presence of mangroves within 42 metres of the temple plot and a fishing pond. The report also stated construction appeared to have started on the plot.

After hearing the contention, the Bench – comprising justice Dinesh Kumar Singh and expert member Dr Vijay Kulkarni – said it was important to ascertain if the construction has begun and then issued notices to MCZMA and the Forest Department asking them to submit their affidavits within two weeks.

The next hearing is fixed for January 12, 2024.

FPJ

CIDCO's plea to convert temporary landfill to permanent reclamation

In his application, Kumar said CIDCO sought to convert a temporary landfill for a casting yard into a permanent reclamation. The temporary casting yard was built on a 19-hectare CRZ1 and 2, including 16 hectares of mangroves and the eco-sensitive zone should have been restored at the end of the MTHL work, he said.

Instead, CIDCO wants to change the land pattern and thus play with the environment, he alleged.

NatConnect presented the google earth maps of 2018 before the casting yard was built in September 2019 in support the claim that the area was dominated by mangroves and intertidal wetlands and mudflats.

Moreover, the area was being used as a fishing zone by the local community. The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) in its ‘Rapid Environment Impact Assessment’ report to MCZMA had explicitly mentioned that the casting yards at Ulwe (Nhava end of MTHL) and Sewree were temporary.

'Temple project should be built on a more eco-friendly area'

Kumar explained that he is not personally against the temple project as such, but it could be built in an environmentally safer area rather than the present CRZ. He is also all praise for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) for their environmental awareness campaigns and band on plastics.

The evidence is clear that a biodiversity zone is being destroyed in the name of the Tirupati temple, Kumar said. Knowing CIDCO’s history, the city planner is bound to lease out the remaining temporary landfill for other projects once the temple comes up, NatConnect said.

Meanwhile, Nandakumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, said CIDCO has been a "habitual environmental offender” as it has been destroying the ecologically fragile coastal areas in Raigad district.

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