Mumbai: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) this week quashed a 2017 petition by a city-based Koli community leader (now deceased) challenging the environment clearance (EC) granted by the Public Works Department (PWD) for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial on grounds that the project will damage the environment and impact marine biodiversity and consequently the livelihood of fishermen operating near the site, which is 1.2 km southwest of Raj Bhavan and 3.6 km southwest of the Girgaon jetty. A copy of the Tribunal’s order dated May 11 has been reviewed by the HT.
Dismissing the appeal of the petitioner, Damodar Tandel (former head of the Akhil Maharashtra Macchimaar Kruti Samiti), a special NGT bench headed by chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel said, “We find that the project is preceded by scientific studies and all environmental safety measures and mitigation measures have been taken based on expert studies.”
Tandel passed in December 2020 and is succeeded by his son, Devendra Tandel, who was also elected as the president of the AMMKS.
The Centre had in February 2015 granted EC for the project. During the pendency of Tandel’s appeal, EC was amended in June 2018 on account of an increase in the height of the statue.
“Except bald contention about the adverse impact on biodiversity and environment… no meaningful argument has been addressed to point out any infirmity in the process for grant of EC,” the bench said, dubbing the petitioner’s concerns as “ill-founded”.
It emphasized that the project be viewed “in larger national and public interest to project the values of one of our greatest national heroes.”
Speaking to HT, Devendra Tandel said he was unaware of the NGT order passed on May 11. “It is a bit suspicious that the court has not put my father’s death on record. I will have to consult with the lawyer first. As far as our stance on the project is concerned, we are opposed to it. We have seen in the case of Coastal Road project, which also apparently had all environment safeguards in place, that fishermen have been badly affected.”
Echoing the concerns mentioned in Damodar Tandel’s petition, Devendra highlighted that construction of the Shivaji Maharaj memorial is proposed on a rocky outcrop area of 1,59,600 square meters, which will block the flow of water and impact the movement of waves and the larger geomorphology of the area. There is also the question of waste that is generated at the site, he said.
The memorial requires 10,26,000 litres per day for sanitation and drinking purposes, and Tandel’s petition expressed concerns over the unauthorised discharge of partially treated or untreated waste into the sea.
“If authorities can allow raw sewage to be dumped into rivers and creeks leading to the Arabian Sea, what guarantee is there that they will not simply just discharge it directly in the middle of the ocean? This project will encroach on our fishing commons in more than one way. We will consider appealing against the NGT’s order,” said Tandel.
The construction activities for the memorial were halted in January 2019 after the Supreme Court ordered a stay in response to a petition filed by environmentalists.
It should also be noted that the NGT’s order does not impact proceedings in another petition, filed by the city-based NGO Conservation Action Trust (CAT), challenging the project. That matter is pending before the Bombay high court after the Supreme Court issued a stay order.
Debi Goenka, executive trustee, CAT, said, “The stay imposed by the Supreme Court continues. We are waiting for our case to be listed for hearing in the high court. Unfortunately, the NGT has passed this order without substituting the original petitioner.”
Prashant Navghare, secretary of the public works department, said, “Supreme Court stayed the memorial work in 2019 and the case is now pending in the Bombay high court. We have prepared our reply and will submit it to the high court soon. It is being legally scrutinised. Similarly, the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) will have to submit its affidavit in the case over the contentious environmental issues. The construction cannot resume until the HC vacates the stay.”
Another official from the PWD said that the NGT order will help them in pleading for the vacation of the stay in the HC. “We will add the NGT order to our affidavit, requesting the HC to lift the stay. We had taken all the permission before beginning the work, but objections have been raised on certain specific permissions. The work can resume only after the stay is vacated.”
Acting on a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by city-based Conservation Action Trust (CAT), on January 11, 2019, the Supreme Court has stayed work on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj memorial in the Arabian sea. The non-profit organisation had initially moved the Bombay high court in June 2017, challenging the validity of environmental clearance (EC) granted by the Centre for the project on February 23, 2015, on the ground that it was granted without holding a public hearing and therefore legally unsustainable.
The non-profit organisation had applied for a stay on the project after land reclamation for the memorial started on October 24, 2018. HC had on November 2, 2018, rejected the prayer for an interim stay, prompting the petitioner body to move Supreme Court.
The project envisages a 210-metre-tall statue of the Maratha warrior king on a small rocky island located 3.5 km off the Mumbai coast with an estimated expenditure of ₹3,600 crore.
(With inputs from Gangan P Surendra and Kanchan Chaudhari)