Mumbai: In a major setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government’s Mumbai makeover plans, the Bombay high court (HC) on Tuesday stopped work on the ₹14,000-crore-plus coastal road project, quashing various environmental clearances granted by the state and central governments.
In its detailed judgement, the court asked the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to stop work till fresh environment clearances and notifications are obtained after a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Work on the long-pending project had started in October, after the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) issued the final clearance in May 2017.
The expressway, when completed, is projected to be used by nearly 130,000 vehicles every day and reduce the 120-minute ride between South Mumbai and western suburbs to 40 minutes. The Shiv Sena-ruled MCGM is the implementing authority for the 29.2-km-long eight-lane highway.
A bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice N.M. Jamdar ruled that there was a lack of “proper scientific study" and this was overlooked by the MCZMA (Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority), EIA and MoEF.
“We quash the approval granted by MCZMA on 4 January 2017, the approval granted by EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF) on 17 March 2017 and the final approval granted by MoEF on 11 May 2017. We further declare that MCGM cannot proceed with the work without obtaining an environmental clearance under EIA notification. Further permission under Wildlife Protection Act 1972 would also be obtained by MCZMA," ruled the HC.
The Shiv Sena-BJP combine has publicized the coastal expressway—one of the signature infrastructure projects of the Mumbai makeover plan—as one of the projects it had cleared after it was “held up" for want of clearances during the previous Congress-led regime in Maharashtra and the Centre. The court order comes barely three months ahead of the Maharashtra assembly election, where Mumbai’s infrastructure overhaul would be one of the themes the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would seek to exploit.
The judgement came in response to a bunch of public interest litigations filed by two fishermen’s cooperatives, called Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Matsyavyavasay Sahakari Society Ltd and Worli Machchimar Sarvoday Sahakari Society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Vanashakti, Conservation Action Trust, Society for Improvement, Greenery and Nature, Bombay Environmental Action Group, and a number of architects and environmental activists, against MCGM, the department of fisheries, government of Maharashtra, MoEF and MCZMA, among other government authorities related to the project. All petitions were filed against different components of the project before construction began last year.
In April, the Bombay HC had stayed work on the project, but MCGM challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which allowed the municipal body to continue with existing work, but restrained it from starting any new work. The apex court also asked the Bombay HC to hear petitions pertaining to the environmental and coastal zone clearances issued to the project. The hearing in HC started last month. Dayanand Stalin, director of Vanashakti, told Mint that the NGO welcomed the judgement, adding the state government and MCGM must obey it in the interests of “environment, greenery, wildlife, and biodiversity".