Damage to mangroves violates fundamental right: Bombay High Court

Narsi Benwal, Free Press Journal, 18 September 2018

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Observing that citizens have the right to enjoy the benefits of mangroves, the Bombay High Court on Monday held that any damage to mangroves will violate their fundamental right to a pollution-free environment.

he High Court, in its detailed judgment, also said the government is under a constitutional obligation to ensure not a single bit of a mangrove is damaged in the state. A division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla accordingly issued a slew of directions to ensure no construction or commercial exploitation of mangroves is permitted in the state. “Mangrove ecosystem plays a vital role in human life. Therefore, the State is duty bound to prevent their degradation,” the bench said.

The directions were issued while disposing a batch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) highlighting the damage caused to mangroves across Maharashtra. “If a citizen is to lead a meaningful life as contemplated by Article 21 of the Constitution, the mangroves will have to be preserved and protected. Considering the drastic effects of destruction of mangroves on the environment, the destruction and the failure of the State to take steps for restoration will amount to violation of fundamental right to a pollution-free environment,” the judgment authored by Justice Oka, rules. The judges further said apart from being a fundamental right, it is also the fundamental duty of citizens to protect mangroves.

“It is the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. If this is the obligation of every citizen, the public bodies, which are constituted by the citizens, are bound by the fundamental duties. Thus, it is the duty of the State and the citizens to ensure that the mangroves are preserved and protected,” Justice Oka held. The bench noted that large-scale destruction has been caused to mangroves by permitting unbridled construction activity or by dumping debris or, in some cases, even by setting them on fire.

“No construction/development permission can be granted in the buffer zone of 50 meters of mangroves having an area less than 1000 square meters. Also, dumping of garbage on the mangroves must be stopped forthwith. One more important issue is to restore mangroves areas which are illegally reclaimed. These areas have to be restored to its original condition. That is the legal obligation of the State,” the judgment reads.

The bench also underscored the need to hold regular programs in schools and colleges for making students aware of the drastic effects of destruction of mangroves. The bench further asked the government to constitute a grievance redressal mechanism, within a period of three months, to entertain the complaints in this regard. The judges have also asked the government to constitute a Committee under the District Magistrate or Collector to protect the mangroves.

“The Committee shall also consider installing CCTVs along the vulnerable stretches to keep a vigil. The Committee shall also undertake satellite mapping of mangroves areas at periodical intervals and any changes seen shall be considered by the committee and remedial measures immediately taken,” the judgement states.

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