'Metro Important': SC Dismisses Appeal to Maintain Aarey Colony as Ecologically Sensitive Zone

The apex court upheld the National Green Tribunal's order on the matter.

New Delhi: Observing that the “metro is important” in congested Mumbai, the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal against the National Green Tribunal order to exclude 407 acres in the green Aarey colony in suburban Mumbai as an Ecologically Sensitive Zone around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Abdul Nazeer has allowed the use of this land for the infrastructure and construction project.

This stretch of land in the Aarey colony has already been set aside by the state government to construct a metro rail shed. Last year, several trees were cut, causing widespread outrage.

In 2016, the Union environment ministry had ordered for the exclusion of 407 acres from the over 15,000 acres notified as an Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

The ministry had justified this order citing the metro shed project and existence of slums and high-rises on the boundary of SGNP.

“The ESZ size was reduced after following due procedure of law and any new construction is allowed as per zonal master plan,” the ministry had stated.

In fact, the Maharashtra government had told the ministry that “various stakeholder and the public requested for the ESZ reduction and to keep it to bare minimum.”

This order was challenged before the NGT. However, the NGT bench of chairperson Justice A.K. Goel and judicial member Justice S.P. Wangdi, with two expert members Nagin Nanda and Siddhanta Das, upheld the environment ministry’s order and said, “no further order is necessary”.

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Following this, an NGO named Vanashakti and its director Stalin Dayanand had appealed in the apex court against the NGT order.

In its appeal, Vanashakti had put forth that the NGT bench “summarily disposed” of the case with an ex-parte order on January 24. “NGT acted in complete violation of rules of natural justice in deciding the case without hearing any party,” the NGO said in its appeal.

It also alleged lapses in following the territorial jurisdiction. “The challenge was made before the NGT, western zone, in Pune, but the case was transferred to the NGT, principal bench, at New Delhi,” it added.

The NGO further said that the NGT order allowing construction within an ESZ would impact the entire biodiversity of the park. “NGT failed to consider that the excluded land is a heavily forested land that boasts of trees of indigenous forest species and has varied flora and fauna.”

It said the reduction in the ESZ area is completely against the spirit and purpose of National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-2016 and the subsequent ESZ Guidelines of 2011.

“Construction 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.”

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Countering the state government’s submission that public had requested to reduce the ESZ, the NGO said that the new notification has negated objections submitted by a large number of citizens and restricted the scope of declaring an area as ESZ.

“It allows for setting up of all kinds of infrastructure projects (such as the Metro rail projects), commercial establishments, residential buildings, IT Parks including red category industries, in an ESZ area,” the NGO stated in the appeal.

Apart from the metro shed project, the 407 acres of land in Aarey is also supposed to be used in a slum redevelopment project to be spread over 90 acres.