SC stays Bombay HC order stopping coastal road project

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant said that, prima facie, they do not agree with the high court order, and asked the state government to go ahead with the process of reclaiming land to build the road.

The top court, however, asked the authorities concerned to not carry out any infrastructure development along the road until further orders from the court.

In July, the apex court, in a setback to Maharashtra government, refused to stay the Bombay High Court order quashing the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) approval for the coastal road project estimated at Rs 12,000 crore, and under construction by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, which has engaged private players such as Larsen Toubro.

The petitioners opposing the project said if the construction material is poured in order to reclaim land, then it will adversely affect the corals.

The corals are beyond the allotment of the coastal land… this is a reclamation project and it cuts through the bay. The destruction is irreversible after pouring concrete, said the counsel for petitioners.

The top court observed that it will hear all the parties on the matter in April.

In July, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, urged the apex court to lift the stay imposed on the project by the high court.

If the stay is not lifted, then the monsoon will destroy a major part of the coastal road project, he had contended before a bench headed by the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The state government claims the project – entailing the construction of a road along the western coastline of Mumbai through a combination of a road on reclaimed land, bridges and tunnels – envisages a substantial enhancement in the quality of life of millions of citizens of Mumbai and also has a positive effect on the environment.

The project will result in a ring road around Mumbai to ease the extreme traffic congestion in Mumbai and to thereby reduce the high levels of vehicular air pollution resulting in 34 per cent fuel saving per day, and reduce CO2 levels, which would eventually improve the health of citizens, it submitted before the bench.

After the initial hearing, the apex court issued notice to NGOs, who had moved the Bombay High Court against the project. These NGOs claimed the government turned a blind eye on the social and environmental impacts of megaprojects, and commissioned the project in reckless haste, as a consequence approvals were granted without mandatory compliance.

The government contested this argument, stating the project generates large open green spaces for public use which Mumbai extensively lacks. These reclaimed open green spaces will arise only because the alignment of the coastal road (19.3 km including the interchanges) has to consist of gentle curves rather than the sharper angles and curves that would result if the road hugged and followed the sharp curves and bends of the actual coastline, the government said in its response before the bench.

The Bombay High Court had stopped work on the coastal road project, citing a serious lacuna in the decision-making process and lack of proper scientific study, and insisted on environmental clearance for the project under an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification.

It reportedly raised the issue of corals despite their miniscule presence at Haji Ali and Worli. The court also observed that the project also required approvals under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, although, the project has already obtained CRZ clearance from the the Union Environment and Forests Ministry.

Image courtesy of thesatimes |

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