While pronouncing its judgement on Friday, the bench held that the project was illegal and directed the BMC to restore the area it had reclaimed to its original form
ByK A Y Dodhiya
Mumbai In a major setback for Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Bombay high court (HC) on Friday held that work on the cycling track around Powai Lake is illegal and directed the civic body to immediately remove all constructions carried out so far and restore the reclaimed portions.
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice VG Bisht on Friday allowed the public interest litigations (PILs) filed by Omkar Supekar and Abhishek Tripathi through advocate Rajmani Varma and NGO Vanashakti on April 25, challenging the construction of a proposed cycling and jogging track around the lake, as it was allegedly in violation of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules.
While pronouncing its judgement on Friday, the bench held that the project was illegal and directed the BMC to restore the area it had reclaimed to its original form and also rejected the BMC’s request for a stay on the operation of the judgement for two weeks. The detailed order is expected to be available in due course.
The petitioners had contended that constructing the 10-km cycling track would have an adverse impact on the habitat of Indian marsh crocodiles, which reside in the lake. Activist Zoru Bathena had also filed an intervention application through advocate Manoj Shirsat, which stated that a six-km road bordering the lake, which is used by the IITians, was already in existence and hence there was no need for a separate track for cycling. The project was also opposed by activists, environmentalists and local citizens.
The IITians had also raised a grievance that the track would harm the wetlands ecosystem as well as disrupt the natural flora and fauna of the lake. The petitioners stated that in 2009, the Supreme Court had passed a judgement that had stressed on safeguarding wetlands and hence sought directions to the BMC to comply with the same. The PIL also sought documents that indicated that the lake had been denotified, thus permitting reclamation and construction on the ecologically sensitive and fragile Powai wetland.
However, senior advocate Aspi Chinoy and advocate Joel Carlos, for the BMC, had opposed the PIL and said that the petition was misconceived and the lake was a man-made reservoir and hence did not fall under the purview of wetlands, adding that the project was in public interest.
Meanwhile, the BMC on Friday said that it will follow the court orders and will take further steps post consultation with the legal department.
Releasing an official statement, the civic body said, “The corporation feels that these directions are for the catchment areas that are around the Powai Lake and should not be for community space that we have taken up for development. While working on this project, the BMC has ensured that no laws, regulations, or environmental issues were violated and that the natural habitat of the lake was not affected,” said the BMC statement.
It further added, “The HC order will be studied by our legal representatives and appropriate decisions will be taken in the future keeping in consideration the wider interest of the citizens of Mumbai. The civic administration is dedicated towards working for the interest of the public and will follow the same by staying within the parameters of the law.”
Stalin D, director, Vanashakti, one of the petitioners in the matter, said, “This judgement is a positive step in the right direction. One of our prayer’s was that the court order restoration of the area to undo the ecological damage which has already been done by the BMC. We hope this will be done at the earliest.”
Pamela Cheema, an activist with NGOs Agni and NAGAR, and a resident of Powai who has campaigned against the project, said, “I am delighted by the HC decision. Our protests have paid off today. This judgement will set a positive precedent for protection of Mumbai’s few remaining natural spaces.”
(with inputs from Pratip B Acharya, Prayag Arora-Desai)
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