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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

‘How is 165 ha of Aarey not in SGNP buffer zone?’

mumbai Updated: Oct 11, 2019 23:58 IST

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday directed the Union environment ministry to explain the process of demarcating the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

While hearing an application by the non-governmental organisation Vanashakti, which challenges the ESZ notification, the NGT bench of Justices SP Wangdi, K Ramakrishnan (judicial members) and Nagin Nanda (expert member), directed the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) to file an affidavit explaining the exclusion of 165 hectares (1.65 sq. km) from Aarey Milk Colony. This exclusion allows construction activities in the area, like the car shed for the Metro-3 project and 32-storey Metro Bhawan.

The counsel representing MoEFCC on Thursday confirmed the development and said the ministry will be submitting a detailed response by the next hearing, scheduled on December 10. “The bench asked us [MoEFCC] to put on merit the process to identify the exact ESZ, minutes of every meeting, and why the 1.65 sq. km zone was excluded,” said advocate Rahul Garg, counsel for MoEFCC. “The applicants were pressing for a stay on further construction at Aarey, claiming the entire area was eco-sensitive, but the tribunal declined.”

Garg said the bench had also noted the same applicants were fighting to declare Aarey a forest before the Supreme Court (the matter will be heard on October 21). “The tribunal said if Aarey was declared a forest then conditions would be more stringent than an ESZ, thus highlighting the confusion and duality in prayers from applicants before two different courts,” he said.

On December 5, 2016, the Union environment ministry declared a minimum of up to 100 metres and maximum of up to four kilometres from the boundary of SGNP as the ESZ. The notification identified the exclusion of 165 hectares from Aarey, aimed at allowing “activities such as affordable housing, tourism resorts and even small-scale industries”. These would be permitted subject to clearance by a monitoring committee comprising 13 members and chaired by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) chief.

The notification also says, “The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had received a large number of responses from elected representatives, various organisations and agencies such as the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and others on the Draft Notification. Taking these into consideration, an area of 1.65 sq km land for the Mumbai Metro Rail Shed of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, temple etc has been excluded in the Final Notification published on 05.12.2016.”

Vanashakti had challenged this ESZ notification less than two weeks after it was published before the NGT on multiple grounds, including the arbitrary exclusion of large parts of Aarey, inclusion of every type of infrastructure projects as permitted activities within the ESZ as a threat to biodiversity, and the civic body chief heading the ESZ committee. “The bench told the environment ministry to respond to all grounds we challenged in our application. We fail to understand how the BMC chief, a sanctioning authority for major projects, can be the committee head,” said Zaman Ali, counsel for applicants.

Vanashakti will have to submit its rebuttal within a week from the MoEFCC’s response.

First Published: Oct 11, 2019 23:58 IST

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