NGT disposes of plea challenging exclusion of Aarey in SGNP ESZ
The principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) disposes the plea challenging the exclusion of parts of Aarey Milk Colony from the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). The decision came as a surprise since the case was before the western, rather than principal, bench and was due to be heard in March. City-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Vanshakti, which had filed the application, has said it will challenge the order in the Supreme Court (SC).
On December 5, 2016, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) announced the creation of an ESZ which ranged in width from 100 metres and four kilometres around the boundary of SGNP. The notification excluded 165 hectares (ha) of Aarey to allow construction, including the Metro-3 car-shed.
Vanashakti challenged the declaration, alleging the final notification was different from the draft (circulated on January 22, 2016), which had no mention of 165ha being excluded. The NGO’s application also alleged the notification had arbitrarily excluded large parts of Aarey to facilitate construction in the area.
On Friday, a bench headed by NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel, with justice SP Wangdi and expert members Nagin Nanda and Siddhanta Das, disposed of the application stating the law has been followed while demarcating the ESZ. “In view of the above, no further order is necessary and the application is disposed of,” ruled the bench.
Previously, on October 10, 2019, an NGT bench had asked MoEFCC to explain how the ESZ area was had been identified and why the 165 hectares (ha) was excluded. The ministry submitted its reply on December 12, 2019.
The final order, issued on Friday, caught both applicants and respondents by surprise as the hearing of the case had been scheduled for March 3. On January 23, the NGT registry had informed both parties that the case would be heard before a bench headed by the NGT chairperson. “The order was passed without the presence of or hearing from any of the parties, despite being informed that it was wrongly listed before the principal bench when it is a matter for the western bench,” said Zaman Ali, counsel for applicants.
Stalin D, director, Vanashakti, said, “The manner in which the entire episode was conducted does not inspire confidence in the judiciary.”
Advocate Rahul Garg, counsel for MoEFCC, said, “Though there was some confusion regarding the date of hearing, the order is welcome. The matter was decided on the procedure followed by MoEFCC to declare SGNP’s ESZ. Owing to developmental pressures and limited scope to increase or decrease the area around SGNP, identification of the final ESZ was done based on proposals decided by the state government and further considered by high level committees.”