NGT admits petition challenging Mumbai’s Versova beach revamp
Mumbai: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) this week admitted the hearing of a petition challenging ongoing development works at Versova Beach, which is alleged to be in violation of coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearances granted by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA). The petition, filed by environmentalist Zoru Bhatena, also emphasised that the beach has previously been known as a nesting site for protected Olive Ridley turtles while seeking the court’s intervention in stopping the construction work.
A two-judge bench led by justices M Sathyanarayanan and Dr Arun Kumar Verma found, prima facie, that merit in the grievances detailed in Bhatena’s petition, and has ordered the respondents to be given notices in the matter. These include the PWD, MCZMA, the state environment impact assessment authority, the municipal corporation and the district collector. The matter will be next heard on September 29. The NGT also cited an October 2020 order of its principal bench which called for the protection of beaches in Goa on account of them being nesting sites for Olive Ridley turtles.
Public works department (PWD) officials had anonymously confirmed to HT last month that an elevated walkway is being constructed along Versova beach and will be completed in the next three to four months. The project, however, seemingly violates Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) instructions laid down at the time of recommending the project for Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance in 2017.
The minutes of an MCZMA meeting from June 2017 state that PWD has not been allowed to construct an elevated walkway or undertake any work of the scale that is currently happening on site. The sandy beach is a CRZ-I area where construction activities are prohibited, the coastal authority has noted in response to similar proposals by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada), which have, at different times, sought to carry out “beautification” of the beachfront.
PWD was allowed to go ahead with the ostensible purpose of their proposal to reconstruct an existing 1.2-km anti-erosion bundh from Picnic Cottage to the Hindu crematorium before Versova Koliwada. This bundh, PWD had submitted, was essential for protecting properties along the stretch “from further damage caused by the tidal action”. MCZMA had categorically prohibited any promenade construction or reclamation of the CRZ-1 area and allowed for the bundh to be remodelled into a sea wall.
“But the current work of constructing a new wall, eight metres from the original bundh, has neither been recommended nor approved by MCZMA. The eight-metre gap has been backfilled to about 16 feet above sea level and the walkway is to be built over that, according to the plans we have obtained. What is expressly not permitted cannot be done by creative engineering. A walkway cannot be created in the garb of anti-erosion measures,” said Bhatena, who has raised the issue with various authorities in three complaint letters dating to early 2020.
Shiv Sena member of Parliament (MP) Gajanan Kirtikar and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of legislative assembly (MLA) Bharati Lavekar have also written to authorities seeking clarification on the project. Their letters also reveal that Aaditya Thackeray, state environment minister and guardian minister for Mumbai suburbs, has ordered a “temporary stay” on the work, which has led to the creation of a 1.2km long wall about eight metres from the original high-tide line, with tetrapods dumped on its seaward side. Earth has been backfilled into an eight-metre space between the original high-tide line and the new anti-erosion wall.