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Maharashtra relaxes 50-metre buffer norm for projects near mangroves

Based on 2015 high court order, issues circular to planning bodies such as BMC, MMRDA and Cidco among others

mumbai Updated: Mar 23, 2018 10:30 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,maharashtra,mangroves
State environment department officials said they repeated the judgement of the Bombay HC. (HT file photo)

The rule about maintaining a 50-metre buffer zone in mangrove areas will no longer be applicable for future projects coming up in areas where development had taken place prior to the introduction of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) 2011 notification, the state environment department said on Thursday. The CRZ 2011 mandates a 50 metre buffer zone from mangrove trees for CRZ-I areas.

Based on a Bombay high court (HC) ruling from July 2015, the department issued a circular on March 5 to all planning authorities — Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA), City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), Konkan commissioner and district collectors all districts along the Konkan coast.The circular was received on Wednesday.

As per the new circular, these areas will be now be classified as CRZ-II (areas up to or close to the shoreline which are within municipal limits or in other existing legally designated urban areas are developed) rather than CRZ-I (areas covered by mangroves of more than 1,000 sq mt). The permission, however, will be subject to Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) clearances.

State environment department officials said they repeated the judgement of the Bombay HC, repeated the interpretation made by the law and judiciary department, and planning authorities have been told take note of the circular.

“The environment department has communicated to all planning authorities vide a circular, an order of the high Court of 2015, interpreting the CRZ notification 2011 in respect of the 50 meter buffer zone in mangrove areas in extensively developed urban agglomerations,” said Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary, state environment department.

He added, “The order interprets that where there is development, existing development plans (DP) etc., there the 50m buffer zone shall not apply. Subsequently, we made a reference to the law and judiciary department, asking them that whether this order is valid for other cases which are similarly placed. So the department opined that ‘yes, this judgment stands for similarly placed cases also’. Thus, we have only reproduced this judgement.”

Gavai, who is also MCZMA chairperson, said in some cases permission for proposals under CRZ-II were routinely being denied. “However, planning authorities need to keep in mind that protection of mangroves is of utmost importance, and MCZMA will deal with these after looking at the facts of every case using satellite images,” he added.

Environmentalists said the HC ruling and the circular that follows is disastrous for Mumbai’s mangrove cover and shoreline. Based on the 50m buffer zone, several project that could have destroyed the city’s shoreline leading to flooding and erosion have been avoided, said environmentalist Debi Goenka, whose petition brought the 2005 landmark order for the buffer zone, incorporated in CRZ 2011 notification. He said his lawyers had challenged the 2015 HC verdict in the Supreme Court and also during an ongoing hearing at the HC .

“The law and judiciary department vide this circular has clearly said the judgement is applicable and confined to that particular case. There was no need to issue such a circular since it cannot be applied any other case. It will just create confusion and result in MCZMA itself being flooded with applications,” said Goenka, adding, “This may lead to further unnecessary litigations. If MCZMA further passes an order for individual cases, it may lead to large-scale mangrove destruction.”

Read more: Ministry eases coastal rules, makes it easier to regularise illegal structures in Mumbai

“It is absolutely improper of the state to issue a circular when the subject matter is at final hearing stage before the Bombay HC. This government does everything to help developers at the cost of the environment,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “The flipside of such a circular means that developers will take advantage by illegally extend properties and claim that they exited prior to the 2011 notification.”

In 2015, the court issued orders regarding a Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) building being constructed at Charkop wherein the blueprint was developed in 1984 and the project proposal was cleared way before CRZ was first introduced by the Union environment ministry in February 1991.

The Bombay HC chief justice Mohit Shah passed an order on July 29, 2015, which said, “As per interpretation placed by us on CRZ notification dated 6 January 2011, where plot of land falls in 50 m buffer zone but it was already part of an approved layout with infrastructure facilities within a municipal area or in an existing legally designated urban area as on 6 January 2011, then it would have to be treated as falling in CRZ II….”

First Published: Mar 23, 2018 10:26 IST