A decade after it acquired almost 1,200 acres of land in northwestern Mumbai’s lush coastal belt of Gorai-Manori, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has invited bids from developers to take the land on lease for tourism projects. The land, equalling over 400 football fields, is across four plots, each leased out in 1997 by the state to the MTDC for an annual rent of Re 1.
The MTDC notice says the land can be used for “any of the following tourism projects: Marina/Big Wheel/Mangrove Park/Theme Park/Spa/Golf Club with Hotel/Entertainment-based tourism project”.
In the past year, the area has seen a maelstrom of protests from local fishermen and farmers in ten villages over a proposed multi-product 2,471-acre Special Economic Zone by the Essel Group. It is unclear how the MTDC land can be developed, given that it is locked up in the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) status.
The CRZ rules place severe restrictions on developing such sea-facing, ecologically sensitive zones. Besides, some of the land has a cover of dense mangroves, and is even listed by the Centre as one of Maharashtra’s nine mangrove zones that merit intensive conservation. Further, a Bombay High Court order in 2006 has banned the destruction of mangroves in the state.
But MTDC Managing Director Jayant Gaikwad dispelled environmental concerns. Instead, he contended, “hopefully, this will lead to a debate on what should and should not be allowed in the CRZ zone.”
The state government is already lobbying with the Centre to relax the CRZ notification, even as a plan to build an airport in Navi Mumbai did not receive clearance from the central Ministry of Environment & Forests, since much of the proposed site has CRZ-I status. The state might have to look for an alternate site for the airport.
On Tuesday, Gaikwad said the developers who won the bids in Gorai-Manori would have to secure environmental clearances for the project. “Maybe they will only build temporary structures for their tourism projects,” he said.
Environmentalists expressed dismay over the current proposal. Planner Chandrashekhar, who has been involved with local opposition to the SEZ, said: “This will potentially begin the destruction of mangroves. The proposal also violates the Bombay High Court order.”