MUMBAI: A total of 407 acres in the green Aarey Colony in suburban Mumbai, roughly the size of 18 Oval Maidans, can now be used for infrastructure and building construction projects.
In a setback to city environmentalists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal by NGO Vanashakti and its director Stalin Dayanand against an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). In January, the tribunal had upheld a 2016 order of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF) to exclude 407 acres of over 15,000 acres notified as an Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
In its appeal before the apex court, Vanashakti said on January 24, 2020 that the NGT bench disposed its case without hearing the two parties and in their absence.
The environment ministry, while justifying the reduced ESZ, had informed the NGT that the state government had proposed the Metro rail shed in the Aarey land and excluded some slums from such a zone.
Challenging the tribunal’s order before the SC, the NGO said the NGT had “failed to consider that the excluded plot is a heavily forested land that boasts of trees of indigenous species and has varied flora and fauna”.
The NGO also said allowing construction inside an ESZ will cause “irreparable harm to the highly sensitive ecology of the region which harbours 1,300 species of flowering plants, 45 species of mammals, 43 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds and 150 species of butterflies” and “thereby impact the entire biodiversity of the park”.
The SC bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Abdul Nazeer on Tuesday, however, observed that Mumbai was “a congested city” and Metro was important, and dismissed the NGO’s appeal.
Vanashakti said while its challenge was before the NGT, western zone, in Pune, the case was however transferred to the NGT, principal bench, at New Delhi. On January 24, the tribunal passed an ex-parte order without hearing it and “without any application of mind”. It “summarily disposed” the case by accepting the ministry’s affidavit justifying the ESZ reduction.
The NGT bench after citing from an MoEF affidavit, had in its order said “no further order is necessary”. The ministry had said “the ESZ size was reduced after following due procedure of law and any new construction is allowed as per zonal master plan