Mumbai’s coastal road project jammed after court cancels environmental nod
In a major setback for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Bombay high court on Tuesday struck down the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for its Rs. 14,000 crore Coastal Road, which is part of the Eastern Freeway to be constructed to provide an alternate speedy connect between South Mumbai and Western suburbs.
The division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Nitin Jamdar struck down the CRZ clearance for the ambitious civic project primarily on the ground that it was granted without conducting proper scientific study and Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests overlooked the deficiency.
MCZMA had recommended CRZ approval for Coastal Road on January 4, 2017 and the final approval came from the environment ministry on May 11, 2017.
The other reason, according to the bench, for striking down the CRZ clearance was the failure to take into consideration the impact of metro rail network being constructed across the city. “The impact of the metro of being able to transport commuters was extremely necessary and important keeping in mind that the reclamation of land to construct a coastal road is permitted only in an exceptional case,” said the bench.
While deciding a bunch of public interest litigations concerning the Coastal Road, the bench also rejected BMC’s stand that no environmental clearance (EC) was required for the project. The civic body had claimed that coastal road was an exempted activity and therefore no prior environmental clearance was required for the Rs. 14,000Cr project. It was also argued on behalf of the civic body that since environmental impact assessment was done for CRZ clearances, there was substantial compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment notification as well.
The bench held that environmental clearance was required for the coastal road primarily in view of the fact that 70 of the 90 hectares land to be reclaimed for the project has been proposed to be used for recreational purposes like open green spaces, parks, cycling and jogging tracks, parking lots and bus depots.
“Sheer volume of the area, which is 90 hectare, would require the project activity to be treated as an area development project,” the bench said. All area development projects are covered under the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2011 and thus required prior environmental clearance.
The court also held that the BMC could not have commenced work on the coastal road without obtaining permission under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in view of presence of corals found in intra-tidal zone where the coastal road project has been proposed. “Notwithstanding the fact that corals presence is minuscule the same shows that ecosystem in the area in question is conducive to the Corals,” the bench said, adding, “It establishes that the area is ecologically sensitive having geo-morphological features which play a role in maintaining integrity of the species and thus, MCGM could not have commenced the works in question without obtaining permission under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The court has now restrained BMC from proceeding ahead with work on the project without obtaining environmental clearance and necessary permission under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The coastal road is part of the proposed Eastern Freeway that connects Marine Lines with suburban Kandivali and is expected to cut short travel time by 70% and save 34% fuel. The 9.98km stretch starts at Princess Street flyover on Marine Drive, passes through a tunnel beneath Malabar Hill and Napeansea Road. The tunnel opens at sea shore near Priyadarshani Park from where the Coastal Road goes on reclaimed land and meets the Worli end of the Bandra Worli Sea Link. It is further connected to Bandra Versova Sea Link and taken further to Kandivali.