The Maharashtra government made its position clear to the Centre that both Mahim as well as the Backbay coast are defined as ‘bays’ under the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) notification 2011 and hence can be opened up for development — right up to 100m from the high-tide line (HTL).
This is the first time the state government officially cleared its stand on the issue.
There had been an ongoing controversy over the classification of both coasts, after the CRZ notification 2011 specified different rules for open sea coasts and bays. For a sea coast, development is restricted up to 500m from the HTL, for bays and other tidally influenced bodies, such as creeks, development was restricted to 100m from the HTL.
With large parts of the state’s 720km coast, including Mumbai, falling under the definition of bay or creeks, the 2011 notification — because of its ambiguity — opened up the gates for development on prime realty in south Mumbai, stretching from Nariman Point to Bandra reclamation.
The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) had written to the state in August last year, seeking a detailed report on how the city had been declared as being on a bay. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), in the minutes of its November meeting issued on Tuesday, justified clearing projects in Mahim and Backbay, pointing to high court orders in 2013, 2014 as well as two Supreme Court judgments in November 2014.
The authority also pointed out that the MoEF had failed to respond to its detailed letter in March 2013, seeking clarification on the definition of bays, pointing out that not just Maharashtra, but Karnataka, Goa and the entire Bay of Bengal can be defined as a bay. The then environment secretary had sought clarity on defining a bay, pointing out its implication for the city. There was no response from MoEF until August last year.
“There are two Supreme Court and high court orders on this issue asking us to go by the notification. The notification clearly states that for the classification of water bodies, the terminology used by Naval Hydrographic Office will be relied on. This defines both Mahim and Backbay areas as bays,’’ said a senior bureaucrat and member of MCZMA, on condition of anonymity.
Individual projects are also screened by central-empanelled agency, Institute of Remote Sensing, Chennai, for its location by the developer and submitted to the MCZMA, he said.
The bureaucrat said the state coastal authority will continue to appraise projects on this basis.
So far, nearly 20 construction and redevelopment projects in the Mahim and Backbay stretch have got a go-ahead in the erstwhile restricted CRZ zone. This includes two projects cleared in the last meeting, a multi-storeyed parking lot in Dadar and a residential project in Prabhadevi. Both these developers had also moved the high court and got an order in their favour in October last year.
The high court in its 2013 order had asked the MCZMA to take a decision on merits after going through the notification and after proper interpretation of the word ‘bay’.
In the recent case, the high court asked the MCZMA to issue a clearance for these projects in four weeks. The authority had filed two separate special leave applications against the high court order, but they were dismissed by the Apex court last November.