Manasi Phadke, Hindustan Times, 17 July 2017
To speed up work on the much-delayed sea link project, Sewri-Nhava Sheva Mumbai Trans Habour Link (MTHL), the state’s coastal zone regulator plans to request the Centre to relax certain conditions it put forth while granting an environment clearance for the Rs17,500-crore project.
The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) wants the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to allow construction work on the project to go on at night. The authority also wants the ministry to scrap a condition that states work can only be undertaken at a time when flamingoes, which flock to the mudflats along the alignment, are not disturbed.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the state agency implementing the project, recently brought up these points before the MCZMA, requesting it to recommend the relaxations to the Centre.
A senior official from the state environment department said, “We accepted the MMRDA’s submission on both the counts. However, it is not in our purview to grant these relaxations and we can only make recommendations to the Centre. To complete the project on time, it is important that the MMRDA gets permission to work during the day as well as in the night.”
The official said the other condition is problematic and could be a basis for disputes and litigation in the future. The condition states the MMRDA should ensure construction activities in the flamingo habitat area may be restricted to the season when flamingoes are not on the site or not in larger flocks.
He said, “Flamingos are present in some numbers nearly all year round, although their presence is at large during the winter. It would be very difficult to plan the construction schedules and these kind of conditions give a basis for disputes going forward. So we have decided to request the Union environment ministry to relax this too.”
An MMRDA official, on condition of anonymity, said flamingos are in large numbers at the mudflats right from October to March. “This condition will mean we will not be able to do any work here for six months of the year. Three more months are lost owing to monsoon. As a result, we will be left with only three months in the year when we can actually work on the project. Also, there’s a large patch of mudflats that will not be impacted during the construction where flamingos can flock.”
Moreover, he said, such conditions will prolong the total time taken to construct the sea link, disturbing flamingos for a much longer duration.
The much-delayed 22-km sea link is key as it will connect the proposed Navi Mumbai airport with the island city of Mumbai. The state government has set a deadline of 2020 for the airport, while the MMRDA hopes to complete the trans harbour link by 2021. The MMRDA is currently in the process of finalising the contractor for the project.
The trans harbour link has faced several environmental hurdles as the connector is proposed to pass through mudflats at Sewri on the island city, on the mainland near Nhava Sheva, as well as the Thane creek. Environmentalists have time and again raised alarms about the possibility of the mudflats being destroyed and flamingos being driven away due to the construction activity.
The project received an environment clearance in January 2016 and an approval from the state forest department earlier this year.