Do you have environmental clearances to build Metro stations at Hutatma Chowk, Churchgate and Cuffe Parade, the Bombay high court asked the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) on Friday.
A division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and justice Girish Kulkarni’s directives came after petitions pointed out that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has refused permissions for these stations, with a categorical no to the Cuffe Parade railway station.
The stations are for the Metro-3 underground line, which will connect Colaba in the Island city with the industrial hubs of Bandra and SEEPZ. The court was hearing petitions filed by two residents, Mina Verma and Pravin Jehangir. Verma approached the court raising concern about green cover on the Churchgate-Colaba-Cuffe Parade stretch being harmed, while Jehangir questioned the use of public lands for the construction of the entire line.
Jehangir said that a special purpose vehicle created by MMRDA for the Metro line cannot exercise the same powers the railways has to use public lands for their purposes. He said the Metro Railway Act requires the contractor to acquire specific rights, even for using public lands temporarily.
Verma’s counsel, senior advocate Janak Dwarkadas, told the court the petitioners inspected documents pertaining to the three Metro stations in south Mumbai, and it revealed a “complete and total abdication of statutory functions both by the MMRCL and the Tree Authority” of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
“None of these stations are permitted under the law,” Dwarkadas said. “In fact, MMRCL has been clearly told it could not construct stations in CRZ-III (coastal regulation zone).”
Dwarkadas also raised the question of the replantation of the trees that will be uprooted to make way for the Metro line.
“Replantation has been proposed on marshy land, which is affected by inter-tidal waters. This means no tree can survive there,” said the senior advocate, adding that “this shows the Tree Authority is only paying lip service to the law.” He said the Tree Authority should be disbanded and that it had “completely abdicated its statutory responsibilities”.
Pointing out that in one of the affidavits filed by MMRCL, it has been claimed that girth of a tree could have increased by about ten feet between August 2016 and January 2017, Dwarkadas said this clearly shows that statements are being made by the body with absolutely no sense of responsibility. He urged the court to appoint an expert committee to re-examine the necessity of cutting trees, to ensure that whatever number of trees could be saved are saved.
MMRCL’s counsel Aspi Chinoy, however, responded saying the corporation had obtained all the necessary permissions. He said the entire track and all stations on the Metro 3 line will be underground and 90% to 95 % of the land required for laying the line would be restored to its original position. Only the access to stations and ventilation are above the ground, Chinoy said, and the corporation will replant an equal number of mature trees, not saplings, in the same vicinities from where they will be uprooted.
Chinoy said MMRCL will also look after and safeguard these newly planted trees for three years. “This is our absolute, specific and categorical promise,” he said, adding that what the MMRCL has offered by this undertaking was in addition to the statutory requirement of planting three times the trees cut for any project. “We are also open to any further suggestions from the court and petitioners.”
The bench, however, directed MMRCL to first clarify its position about the environmental clearances for Hutatma Chowk, Churchgate and Cuffe Parade stations. The bench found it necessary first to verify if CRZ clearance was given and whether MoEF clearance was obtained for these stations. It has now posted the petitions for further hearing on March 16.