Mumbai: In a jolt to the Maharashtra State Government, the Bombay High Court has asked the Public Works Department (PWD) of the State Government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) to explain how the mandatory clause of holding a Public Hearing was bypassed to give the Environmental Clearance to the Shivsmarak that is to be built in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast.
The HC was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed in January this year by nine petitioners : Shweta Wagh, Rajashree Bhanji, Padma Velaskar, Girija Gupte, Ashok Tandel, Vasanti Damle, Ritu Dewan, Prasad Chavri and Sandhya Gokhale. Wagh is an architect, Bhanji a fisherwoman, Velaskar a professor, Gupte an activist, Tandel a retired government officer, Damle a teacher, Dewan a well known scholar, Chavri a software engineer and Gokhale an IT professional.
The petitioners had filed a petition claiming that the MOEF had granted an EC to the proposed Shivsmarak, which would be 309 feet tall statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, was in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2011, which requires a public hearing to be held before an EC is granted to any project.
An Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), recommends the MOEF if a project can be granted an EC or not. The state government made an amendment to the clause in December 2014 and in 2015, the said amendment was included in the act, in which, the MOEF could grant a clearance with the permission of the central government to bypass the public hearing.
The EC granted to the Shivsmarak however, came before the amendment came into existence. The petitioners allege that no public hearing was held before granting the clearance, which a violation of the CRZ notification. Even if one is to assume that there was a draft amendment ready, there is nothing to suggest that a permission was taken from the central government. said Saranga Ugalmugle, the lawyer on record on behalf of the petitioners.
The court has issued notices to the PWD, the MOEF and the MCZMR, who are the respondents in the case to explain this specific violation in a one month period. The authorities have to explain as to why the clause was violated, by the 3rd of April, when the next hearing of the case is scheduled. Said Ugalmugle.
When contacted, the Minister of State for environment Ramdas Kadam, said, "I am yet to be informed of such a notice. I will look into the matter as soon as possible." The Minister for Revenue, Relief & Rehabilitation, and Public Works, Chandrakant Patil, remained unaivalable for a comment after several attempts of contact.