Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the proposed Tirupati Balaji Temple project in Ulwe, stating that a “fresh evidence” suggests that the 10-acre temple plot in Navi Mumbai is a landfill on an intertidal wetland.
B N Kumar, the director of NatConnect, pointed out to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Control (MOEFCC) and the Chief Minister that a comparison of Google Earth Maps from 2018 and the present day reveals that the temple plot was previously part of a vast intertidal wetland, with mangroves visible near the plot even now.
The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has granted Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for the project, but environmentalists alleged that the plot is a part of the temporary landfill for a casting yard for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL). The casting yard created for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) inaugurated in September 2019, is a temporary landfill on 20 hectares of land, including 16 hectares of mangroves, said NatConnect citing from official documents, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by MMRDA and the Japanese financial agency JICA. Kumar pointed out that the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) itself confirmed the temple plot to be a part of the casting yard area and that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) agreed to vacate the 10 acres, in a press release last April.
The head of NGO Sagar Shakti, Nandakumar Pawar, said, “Our fear is that once this 10-acre plot gets regularised, the entire 20 hectares will be leased out for concretisation which will be detrimental to the environment.”
Construction restricted due to CRZ restriction
The MCZMA has given its nod to the temple project but has restricted construction to 75% of the 10-acre plot due to CRZ restrictions. While giving the nod during the meeting, which was held with less than a 24-hour notice on May 23, MCZMA noted that out of the total 40,000 sq mts of the plot, 2748.18 sq mts comes under CRZ1A, 25,656.58 sq mts under CRZ2 ,while 11,595 sq mts of plot stands outside CRZ. The construction is to be confined to the non-CRZ area. Additionally, development on CRZ2 is to be considered only after the finalisation of the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) as per the CRZ notification-2019.The minutes of the MCZMA meeting, however, did not reflect the fact that the entire land piece is a temporary landfill, which CIDCO aims to make permanent, an action called by Kumar as illegal.
The Chief Minister has taken note of the environmentalists' complaints and directed the Principal Secretaries of the Environment and Urban Development Departments to investigate the issue as well as directed top bureaucrats to examine NatConnect’s previous complaint against CRZ violations in the temple project. Kumar clarified that his objections are not against the Balaji temple project itself and suggested that an alternative plot in Navi Mumbai could be allotted for the temple.n