The state has asked the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT)western bench in Pune to dismiss a petition against the construction of a Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial statue in the Arabian Sea through an affidavit terming it “wholly baseless, misconceived and unsubstantiated”.
In September, a local fishing community had opposed the project citing large-scale ecological damage, drop in fish catch. The community alleged that the process of acquiring environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances was done without any public consultation, through a petition submitted at the tribunal.
Earlier this year, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis directed the finance ministry to make budgetary allocations for the project that is likely to be completed by 2019. The 192-m statue of the Maratha warrior king has been planned on a rocky outcrop of 15.96 hectares, roughly 1.5km from Raj Bhavan and 3.5km into the Arabian Sea. The memorial is likely to cost more than Rs2,000 crore.
“The applicants have failed to bring on record any data, either scientific, environmental, theoretical, qualitative or quantitative in support of their several allegations as a part of their application. The hypothetical and speculative application is vague, misconceived, misconstrued and does not raise any substantial questions relating to environment and deserves to be dismissed,” read the affidavit submitted on October 24 by Dhanyakumar Borarkar, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial project division.
As part of the petition, the applicants prayed that the project will destroy 110 km coastal area near Mumbai, natural aquatic, marine eco-system and it will affect the livelihood of traditional fishermen, who are doing fishing business preserving natural environment available there. In response, the affidavit said, “The project site is on a rocky outcrop and cannot be part of the route that fishermen take because it may cause accidents or damage to their boats.”
The state submitted environment impact assessment reports prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), outlining the impact of the project. “Both these reports bring on record sufficient evidence, both scientific and environmental, and also suggest post-project monitoring mitigation measures in order to ensure protection of the marine environment,” the affidavit read, adding that the applicants had no knowledge or expertise pertaining to environmental issues.
The advocate representing the petitioners, Asim Sarode had raised the issue of no public consultation before granting clearances for the project.
The Union environment ministry gave the clearance for the project through a final notification on February 17, 2015. “The project did not involve rehabilitation and resettlement of the public and since it was located away from human habitation, the public hearing was dispensed,” read the affifavit.
Sarode said garnering clearance from the Union environment ministry was an abrupt and illegal process adopted by the state government. “There is no provision for exempting such a project from public hearing with an excuse that it is nationally important,” he said adding, “We will be filing our reply and attaching aqua-culture studies with photographs highlighting the rich marine biodiversity present at the site before the next hearing.”
The next hearing is scheduled on November 18 at NGT, Pune.