724 trees cut for houses, golf course in Navi Mumbai; Cidco says plot not under litigation
Despite efforts by environmentalists to stop the cutting of trees in a proposed residential complex and golf course in Seawoods, Navi Mumbai, all 724 trees were hacked by the City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd’s (Cidco) contractor between Sunday and Monday. Protestors said bouncers were stationed outside the plot to stop them from gathering at the site which local residents claim is a wetland.
Local resident Sunil Agarwal, who has petitioned the Mumbai high court against the tree felling, said he will be filing a contempt petition in the Supreme Court (SC) which is slated to hear the matter on Tuesday.
Cidco’s tree authority granted the permission to its contractor on December 11, 2019, to cut 724 trees, transplant five, and retain 13 trees across two plots that form part of the project.
“The two plots are not under litigation before the Bombay high court (HC) or the SC where the residential complex will be built. Plots A, B and C are areas where no construction permissions have been issued yet, where the golf course has been planned. Trees permitted to be felled have been removed from the site and afforestation measures have commenced,” said a senior Cidco official requesting anonymity.
Cidco plans to develop 17 buildings with 1,564 flats, 20 offices, and an 18-hole golf course on the plot. HT had reported on Monday that contractors had begun tree felling on Sunday, and hacked over 500 trees until the local police stopped them by the afternoon, but on Monday all remaining trees were chopped, residents said.
While the project was proposed in 2002 by Cidco, plans were developed after the Maharashtra government issued a notification on October 5, 2016, which changed the land use of the area under Maharashtra Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Act for construction of the project across 67 of 80 hectares.
After local residents moved the HC in 2017 against the change of land use from a green zone to residential, a division bench of the HC on November 1, 2018 putting a stay on Maharashtra government’s notification. Cidco and the company building the project, challenged the order in the SC.
On July 19, 2019, the SC removed the stay imposed by the HC on the state’s notification (issued on October 5, 2016). However, it was not clear whether Cidco could commence construction for the project, as there was no such mention in the order. In subsequent hearings, petitioners submitted details about all plots recognised as important wetlands by the forest department, and will be submitting more details during the next hearing scheduled on Tuesday. In the interim, the trees were felled.
“Our petition clearly stated that all plots are under litigation. The residential complex is being built overlooking the golf course. This is a clear violation of HC guidelines,” said Agarwal. “Permission was never given to the builder to commence construction by the SC.”
As compensatory measure, the contractor was directed to plant 1,448 trees (twice the number felled) and an additional 168 trees to be planted at a plot in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai. The Cidco contracter, Mistry Construction, refused to comment on the issue.
Other environmentalists said there was no public notice, no public consultation nor any permission from other state agencies for tree cutting. “The action stands illegal,” said Zoru Bhathena, petitioner before the HC and the SC on several tree felling matters.
NMMC commissioner Annasaheb Misal said, “If this would have happened on NMMC land, the builder would have been booked and tree cutting stopped. Unfortunately the land belongs to Cidco, and their tree authority has the final decision. We will examine other options to protect green cover in Navi Mumbai.”