State govt to oppose SC order banning construction in 1 km area from SGNP border
In June, the top court had issued an order stating that all protected forests should have an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of minimum 1 km from the demarcated boundary
Mumbai: The state government has decided to move the Supreme Court (SC) seeking a stay on its order that halts ongoing construction and bans new development projects from coming up within one kilometre of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), citing its “serious fallout” that has affected thousands of housing projects as well as essential activities like mining, state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said.
“We will move the court with the request to stay its order issued in June and all preparations for it have been done. The order affected not only cities but even rural parts as essential activities including mining have come to halt. It also affects the development of areas and badly hits employment of the people. In fact, the previous government should have moved the court taking the serious fallout of the order into account, but they did nothing. All construction activities have come to a halt,” Mungantiwar said on Saturday.
In June, the top court had issued an order stating that all protected forests should have an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of minimum 1 km from the demarcated boundary. The earlier limit for the ESZ was 100 metres. In the event of any activity already undertaken within 1-km or extended ESZ of any wildlife sanctuary or national park, such activities may continue with permission of the principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), taken in six months, the court ordered.
Thousands of ongoing housing projects in Mumbai, Thane, Mira-Bhayander and Vasai-Virar have come to a halt, as they fall within the 1-km zone. Mungantiwar said that ongoing projects will be stopped until the PCCF issues fresh permissions.
On August 22, the forest department issued a circular to the heads of four municipal corporations of Mumbai, Thane, Mira-Bhayandar and Vasai-Virar asking them to not permit new constructions within a kilometre of the SGNP, which is a national park.
The corporations, however, have sought clarification from the urban development department regarding the issuance of commencement certificates (CC), which are provided as and when new floors are added to an ongoing construction. With the entire project itself on hold, builders are unclear whether they can continue construction with the existing CCs in place, or whether they will need altogether fresh NOCs from the PCCF. This order also affects construction of roads and other infrastructure. The municipal corporations have reached out to the state government urging it to expedite the process of moving the court.
“The SC in its order itself has stated that the states will have freedom to approach it, through the ministry of environment and forest and climate change (MoEF&CC) for any exemption. The order cannot be applicable equally for all states across the country. SGNP is perhaps the only national park in the world to be surrounded by densely populated cities. We have urged the government through the urban development department to take quick steps to get restrictions lifted,” said a senior official from the Thane Municipal Corporation.
Environmentalists, however, said that they will oppose the government’s stand in court. “The state government has failed to protect the 100-metre buffer zone mandated by the SC earlier, and buildings have come up rampantly in the eco-sensitive zone. A 28-storey building in Magathane shares the boundary wall of the SGNP which is a sheer violation of the norms. The government has opened up the buffer zone for uncontrolled construction by builders. The state failed to abide by the 2002 court order in which the government was mandated to rehabilitate 30,000-odd settlements in the SGNP outside the national park. If the state opposes the June 2022 order, we will fight them tooth and nail,” said Stalin D, director, non-government organisation, Vanashakti.
In 2002, the top court issued a slew of orders to protect natural forests while hearing a case, TN Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs Union of India and Ors which pertained to the protection of the Nilgiri forest in the western ghat. Various orders have been passed from time to time to ensure the preservation of forests in the wake of economic activities. The court also ordered the setting up of a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to monitor the implementation of the court’s orders and record incidents of noncompliance.