Waterfront project in Thane: 5 bodies get notice for CRZ violations
A legal notice has been issued to five state government bodies for failing to address alleged coastal regulation zone (CRZ) violations for a waterfront development and beautification project by Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). The five bodies are the principal secretary of the state environment department; State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA); Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA); the mangrove cell of the forest department; and TMC.
Thane resident and environmentalist Rohit Joshi has alleged in a petition that there is large scale dumping of debris and reclamation in mangroves and creek areas, all falling under CRZ-1 (with highest protection). Issued through Joshi’s counsel on Thursday, a legal notice called for the CRZ clearance by state bodies to be revoked within seven days and restoration work be completed within three weeks at all sites. The notice highlighted four locations and specific dates where CRZ violations were observed recently. It further read that if damage to the creek ecology of Thane continued, the matter would be taken to court again.
Covering an area of 72.2 hectares, TMC’s waterfront beautification project extends up to 10.58km, covering eight areas — Kopri-Mithbunder, Gaikmukh, Kavesar-Waghbil, Saket-Balkum, Nagla bunder, Kolshet, Parsik-Retibunder, and Kalwa-Shastrinagar. Beautification works include the development of promenades, playgrounds, jogging, walking and cycling tracks, open gymnasiums, and food courts. The project was first proposed in 2010 and construction began in 2017.
Joshi had previously filed a petition before Bombay high court (HC) against the project but the HC had rejected his submissions and approved the project in September 2019.
Over the past four years, clearances from the SEIAA, MCZMA, mangrove cell, and the Maharashtra Maritime Board were issued to TMC. This included the CRZ clearance issued on July 8, 2019, which specified, “No mangroves should be cut or destroyed for the project activities. TMC to ensure that dumping of the debris in mangrove and creek is not allowed.”
“It is an absolute mockery of CRZ laws as debris are dumped on mangroves and on the creek despite a specific prohibition to do so in the clearance itself,” said Zaman Ali, Joshi’s legal counsel.
According to Thursday’s notice, a survey of all eight sites showed environmental violations on February 24, April 17, October 6 and 7, and November 11 and 30 at Gaimukh and Nagla bunder; at Kolhet on October 28; Saket-Balkum on November 30; and Kopri-Mithbunder on December 2. “Each of these locations have large mounds of debris choking the high tide flow from the creek, destroying ecologically sensitive mangrove trees, and ruining the biodiversity of natural areas. Development work in low lying areas including near the creek has resulted in submergence during heavy rains causing great risk to life and property,” said Joshi.
The notice has directed action be taken for the alleged violations under Environment Protection Act, 1986 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980, within seven days from the date of receipt of the notice. “Any non-compliance will entail serious legal consequences before the HC,” reads the notice.
The mangrove cell said they had not received the notice, but would direct their officers to validate the findings and submit a report. “Large mangrove patches fall under the jurisdiction of the revenue department or TMC. They need to be handed over to us for better security,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell).
TMC officials did not deny the allegations but said the areas were being protected. “Wherever debris has been dumped, it is being removed within days of the complaint. We are working with the local police to identify violators and unidentified persons have also been booked. The project has all clearances in place,” said Manisha Pradhan, chief of TMC pollution control department.
An executive engineer of the TMC’s waterfront development project said, “We have managed to keep away encroachments from these areas for the last four years. Satellite images can verify this. Those filing notices today never raised their voice against environment violations back then.”
9.43 HA WIPED OUT DUE TO DEBRIS DUMPING FROM WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT AREA
A comparative study by Thane based group Muse Foundation of the Kolshet creek area found green cover reduction of 9.43 ha due to debris dumping, encroachment, dumping of plastic and hazardous waste. Their study used satellite images dating from April 2010 to April 2020. “Massive CRZ violations are being ignored by authorities. They are being undertaken by the local planning body, which makes it even more unacceptable,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.