The Bombay high court on Wednesday directed the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to take the final decision on a proposal forwarded by state government seeking permission to utilise nearly 600 hectare of forest land for construction of a dam on Kalu river in Thane district. The dam is meant for augmenting drinking water supply to Mira-Bhayander and Navi Mumbai.
MoEF counsel Gauri Godse had sought six weeks’ time for taking a decision, but the division bench of justices DD Sinha and VK Tahilramani reduced the period to four weeks saying that the central ministry should have already taken a call by now.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Shramik Mukhti Sanghatana, an NGO, alleging that the dam over the river was being built without required permissions from the forest department. The dam, if built, is likely to submerge 2,100 hectare of land, including around 1,000 hectare of dense forest and, and displace people from four villages.
Responding to the PIL, the MoEF had earlier informed the court that projects like the Kalu dam, meant solely for the purpose of drinking water and where there will be no irrigation and hydro-electricity generation, don’t require permission from the MoEF.
The work on the dam began in October 2010. Although the work has begun only on non-forest land, Gayatri Singh, counsel for the petitioner, contended even this could not have started without permission from the MoEF. She pointed out a guideline stating that public projects taken up partly on forest land and rest on non-forest land should not be started without obtaining permission from the MoEF for carrying out construction on forest land.
According to Singh, the work order had been issued on May 29, 2010, and only after the filing of the PIL did the state government apply for permission to the chief conservator of forests, in June 2011. Singh sought stay on further construction, but the court rejected the plea, noting, “This is a matter of public interest where the society is going to be affected if water is not provided, and therefore stay cannot be granted.”
The matter will now come for hearing on February 17.