Corals and common sense calls for reflection on Coastal Road project
The Bombay HC, on Tuesday, halted all work on the Coastal Road, quashed the approvals given to it under Coastal Regulation Zone law in the last two years, and caught out the deception of the Devendra Fadnavis government and BMC on the project.Updated: Jul 17, 2019 23:43 IST
Once again, Mumbai has been protected – albeit temporarily – by its fishing community, public-spirited citizens, and environmental organisations who challenged the ill-advised and resource-intensive Coastal Road. The Bombay high court (HC), on Tuesday, halted all work on the Coastal Road, quashed the approvals given to it under Coastal Regulation Zone law in the last two years, and caught out the deception of the Devendra Fadnavis government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on the project.
With this, the HC brought a much-needed pause in the ₹14,000 crore and nearly 30 kilometres Coastal Road project. The petitioners welcomed this pause. Millions of Mumbaiites would have sent them silent gratitude. The government and BMC should have started reconsideration and reflection. Instead, the authorities said they would appeal in the Supreme Court, and rued that there would be delays and cost over-runs in the project. Clearly, there lies a battle ahead. The project was initiated during the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in 2010-11, but received a push in the Fadnavis government after 2015. A super-expensive project which could wreck Mumbai’s western waterfront and disturb its complex marine eco-system was justified to ease traffic congestion between the city’s south and western suburbs. This did not take into account that only around 20% of Mumbaiites use private vehicles, while the majority uses public transport. The Coastal Road would benefit only a fraction of these car and SUV users, on the western side. The project also failed to factor in the vast metro network under construction now. At least three to four lines run parallel and will decongest road traffic. The HC had to point this out to the government and BMC. “The impact of the Metro to transport commuters was extremely necessary and important (to consider),” the bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Nitin Jamdar wrote. The major infrastructure lobby desires more construction, not less. The authorities seem to be aligned.
The HC made two more and important points. One, it remarked that only 20 of the 90 hectares to be reclaimed for the Nariman Point-Worli section – total reclamation would be 168 hectares – would be used for Coastal Road, which meant that it could not be a road project. It would have to be evaluated as “an area development project”. This called for a comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report with a detailed and scientific study, and mandatory public consultations. Did the authorities know they were making a wrong classification? Worse, did they do so to escape the public consultation process which could have turned ugly? Mumbaiites can see that the Coastal Road benefits a tiny fraction of citizens but comes at great public expense.Two, the ruling made a specific reference to marine environment including the presence of corals, however miniscule, along Haji Ali which is one of the sites of major reclamation. Environmentalists have shown that the project would adversely impact not one or a dozen, but hundreds of marine species along the western coast. A detailed and comprehensive EIA report would have shown this up and called for clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act. The HC asked the BMC to get it. Also, the BMC will have to do an EIA report for the entire 30kms now.
It is fair to ask if the authorities knew the marine bio-diversity and wilfully circumvented the procedure, or were they not even aware what they were about to destroy. The first scenario stinks of deception, the second of ignorance. Neither fosters confidence in their intent or ability. There is another key aspect. Mumbai is like an estuary with rivers emptying into the sea, mangroves and salt pans playing specific roles in the inflow and outflow of tidal water. Large scale reclamation along its coast cannot but lead to an unmapped adverse impact.
The Shiv Sena, which unveiled the Coastal Road as its grand contribution to Mumbai, is unmindful of its environmental impacts, but bats for the green cover in Aarey Colony which is being axed for the Metro network. Would the Thackerays care to explain?
The essence lies in the judges’ remark that “perhaps a dichotomous view of human needs and conservation is itself a problem”. The need of a small fraction of Mumbai’s car owners to drive unhindered by traffic cannot hold the city’s present and future to ransom. Hope Fadnavis and Thackeray pause and reflect.