SC refuses to stay Bombay HC order on coastal road project

New Delhi: In a setback to the Maharashtra government, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the Bombay High Court order, which quashed the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) approval for the Rs 12,000 crore coastal road project, and under construction by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, which has engaged private players such as Larsen & Toubro.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, urged the apex court to lift the stay on the project by the High Court. “If the stay is not lifted then the monsoon will destroy a major part of the coastal road project,” he told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The state government claims the project envisages a substantial enhancement in the quality of life of millions of citizens of Mumbai and also has a positive effect on the environment. The project entails the construction of a road along the western coastline of Mumbai through a combination of a road on reclaimed land, bridges and tunnels. 

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“The project will result in a ring road around Mumbai to ease the extreme traffic congestion in Mumbai and to thereby reduce the high levels of vehicular air pollution resulting in 34 per cent fuel saving per day; reduce CO2 levels, which would eventually improve the health of citizens,” it submitted. 

After the initial hearing, the apex court issued notice to NGOs, who had moved the Bombay High Court against the project. These NGOs claimed the government turned a blind eye on the social and environmental impacts of megaprojects, and the commissioned the project in reckless haste, as a consequence approvals were granted without mandatory compliance.

The government contested this argument stating the project generates large open green spaces for public use which Mumbai extensively lacks. “These reclaimed open green spaces will arise only because the alignment of the coastal road (19.3 km including the interchanges) has to consist of gentle curves rather than the sharper angles and curves that would result if the road hugged and followed the sharp curves and bends of the actual coastline,” the government said in its response before the bench.

The Bombay High Court had stopped work on the coastal road project, citing “a serious lacuna in the decision-making process” and “lack of proper scientific study”, and insisted on environmental clearance for the project under a Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. It also raised the issue of corals despite their “miniscule presence” at Haji Ali and Worli. 

The court had also observed that the project also required approvals under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, though, the project has already obtained CRZ clearance from the Union Environment and Forests Ministry. 

The next hearing on the matter is listed on August 20.

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