Bombay HC halts work at Mulund-Thane SEZ

Asks project proponent to immediately stop dumping solid waste to reclaim land 

 
By Ashwin Aghor
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Bombay High Court has put a spanner in the land reclamation work currently on at the Mulund-Thane Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project site in the ecologically sensitive coastal area in northeastern Mumbai. It has asked the project proponent, Zeus Infrastructure, to stop dumping solid waste in the area immediately. The company was using construction debris and municipal garbage to reclaim land.

The court order came in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Mumbai-based non-profit Vanashakti.  The SEZ for information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITES) is being developed on the site which earlier had salt pans. Earlier, a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by the non-profit had revealed that the Union environment ministry overturned its own decision to give approval to the SEZ in the ecologically sensitive coastal area. Dumping of the solid waste to reclaim land is illegal. This was clear from the response of the environment ministry counsel in the court who said that environmental clearance would stand cancelled if the proponent is found to have dumped municipal solid waste at the site.

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The ministry had initially rejected the Rs 3,000 crore SEZ in 2006 because the project site spread over 54.23 hectares (ha) was on land classified as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) I. CRZ rules are applicable up to 500 metres (m) on the landward side of the high tide line and up to 100 m from high tide line along water bodies like estuaries that are influenced by tides. CRZ-I refers to those areas in the regulated zone which are ecologically sensitive and have special geomorphological features like mangroves, marshes and mudflats; the Mulund-Thane coast has mangroves and wetland.
The ministry subsequently allowed the site to be reclassified as CRZ III (relatively undisturbed coastal zone, including rural coasts) and approved the development project on December 19, 2006. The regulations for CRZ III are less stringent, but the revised CRZ regulations that came into effect from January 2011, do not permit new industries and expansion on CRZ III as well.   
 
The non-profit in its PIL noted that the interests of public are being incalculably harmed by the large-scale environmental and ecological damage caused due to reclassification of Mulund area as CRZ III and illegal dumping of solid waste. The petitioners also requested the court to order the Maharashtra government to withdraw the reclassification of the Mulund area.

 “The court has accepted our prayer and ordered that dumping of any type of waste on the site be stopped immediately. The proponents of the IT SEZ were dumping municipal solid waste on the site, which is violation of environmental clearance granted by the Union environment ministry,” says Snehal Paranjape who represented Vanashakti in the high court.

The division bench headed by chief justice Mohit Shah and justice Roshan Dalvi in their order on January 6 also asked the state government, Union environment ministry and the project proponent to file their affidavits by January 24. The next hearing has been scheduled for January 31.

The non-profit also presented before the court photographic evidence of violations. Taking cognizance, the court asked the environment ministry whether any of its officials had visited the site before granting clearance. Replying senior advocate Rashmi Desai, who represented the ministry noted that no official from the ministry visited the site and the clearance was granted on the basis of reports submitted by the state government.

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