The Bombay high court cleared five development projects across the state, stuck as they were likely to destroy mangroves, saying while ecological conservation is “crucial, not every development project should be halted, particularly, if these projects are meant for public welfare”.
A bench of justice VM Kanade and justice Nutan Sardessai also cautioned environmentalists against taking a stand against every development project. Don’t oppose every project, the court said, for “the sake of opposition, without taking into consideration the heavy burden cast on the public exchequer as a result of the delay in completion...” The bench said activists should also consider most of these projects are done by government undertakings that do not necessarily have vested interests.
“Look out for real estate developers and private players who get away with indiscriminately destroying the city’s green cover”.
The bench granted a go-ahead to Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited’s proposal to lay a 45-km underground pipeline between Mankhurd and Bhiwandi — part of the government’s proposed 252km-long mega grid for a joint refinery project. The other projects that got the court’s nod were MMRDA’s proposal to construct a six-lane bridge over Ulhas creek from Kalyan to Dombivli; JNPT’s proposal to widen two national highways and another four-lane road to eight lanes along Uran-Panvel; BMC’s proposal to widen Mahim causeway; and Vaitarna and Tansa pipelines—arterial pipelines that supply water to Mumbai.
All authorities involved in these projects told the HC they already had permissions from the state and Centre in place, but that their projects were stuck in litigation for years, after a bench of the high court in 2005 banned destruction of and construction within 50m of mangroves. The authorities also gave an undertaking to the HC saying they will each carry out “the mandatory compensatory re-plantation in lieu of the mangroves destroyed by their respective projects”.
“We are most concerned about the green cover in Mumbai and rest of the state and also about mangroves. While their unwarranted destruction cannot be tolerated, we must keep in mind that development and ecological concerns must amicably co-exist. In other South Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, no stringent conditions are imposed when it comes to crucial developmental projects,” the bench said.
The observations came while the bench was hearing several applications filed by various government agencies in response to orders passed by the HC in 2005 over a Public Interest Litigation by the Bombay Environmental Action Group. The court had then imposed restrictions on construction and development work in and around mangroves areas.
The respondents, meanwhile, argued they had all permissions and that in cities like Mumbai and Navi Mumbai that had “huge, sporadic stretches of mangroves”, it was difficult to ensure zero damage while carrying out developmental work.