Green clearances for key projects in Dahanu declared ‘null and void’
The Supreme Court (SC) established the DTEPA in 1996 to protect India’s first notified eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) in Dahanu
Mumbai The chairman of the newly-reconstituted Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) has declared green clearances for key infrastructure projects passing through Dahanu taluka in Palghar district as ‘null and void’.
These clearances were given by an ad hoc monitoring committee between November 2020 and October 2021. The projects include the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway Phase-II, the MMRDA’s Surya irrigation scheme, and the Dahanu Regional Plan.
The Supreme Court (SC) established the DTEPA in 1996 to protect India’s first notified eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) in Dahanu. More than a year after the passing away of its chairperson, retired high court justice CS Dharmadhikari in early 2019, the union environment ministry in 2020 moved the apex court seeking to scrap the DTEPA and establish a monitoring committee to perform the DTEPA’s tasks for a three-year period in its place.
“But the monitoring committee consisted of just three or four state government officers, who were reluctant to scrutinise infrastructure projects with due rigour. It is also a violation of the Supreme Court’s direction that the DTEPA be overseen by a retired high court judge. The absence of any independent experts on the DTEPA sets a dangerous precedent for the region,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust, which in 2020 filed an intervention application before the SC challenging the MoEFCC’s move to disband the Authority.
Eventually in December 2021, responding to environmentalists’ demands and with legal proceedings pending in the HC and SC, the central government disbanded the ad hoc committee and subsequently reconstituted the DTEPA in February 2022, appointing former justice A B Chaudhari as the chairperson.
In the latest development, Chaudhari issued an order saying, “It was brought to my notice that the interim committee...had conducted three meetings on November 12, 2020, February 8, 2021 and October 14, 2021. It also appears that some approvals were granted in the meetings. In my view, all the above meetings or approvals granted therein are “null and void” and can not be acted upon. The concerned persons/parties however are at liberty to request for fresh approvals from this authority by lodging the appropriate filing, which will be considered by the Authority.”
This creates a hurdle for at least two major infrastructure projects, including the MMRDA’s water supply pipeline from Surya Dam to provide water to the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) and the Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC). It also includes the Phase-II stretch of the Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway from Talasari to Vasai, for which approval from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority and Stage-1 forest clearance have already been acquired.
“These are independent approvals. The projects may have already received forest clearance or environment clearance from either the state or central governments, but they cannot be implemented without clearance from the newly-reconstituted DTEPA. All the various projects which have been proposed in the eco-sensitive zone need to be considered for their cumulative impact before any approvals are granted. The decision of the Government of India to withdraw the appointment of the Dahanu monitoring committee as well as the decision of the Dahanu Authority to rescind all the illegal permissions issued by the ad hoc monitoring committee is a great victory,” said Goenka.