Nauzer Bharucha, Times News Network, September 20 2017
A Supreme Court order questioning the environment ministry’s decision to reduce the buffer zone around forests and parks from 10km to 100 metres could come as a huge jolt to many in Mumbai and Thane.
The court’s intention to examine the validity of the ministry’s decision has caused panic and confusion among builders with projects near forest areas in Mulund, Thane, Kandivli, Goregaon and Borivli, especially near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. They said they are awaiting clarity on the order.
In an order about an industrial unit located within a 10-km radius of a Dadra and Nagar Haveli wildlife sanctuary, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said: “It is extremely surprising that 10km of eco-sensitive zone has been reduced by the ministry of environment and forest to 100 metres. Since an order of this nature is capable of destroying national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country, we would like to examine the validity of this reduction. Prime facie, it appears to us a complete arbitrary exercise of powers by the ministry.”
Developer Niranjan Hiranandani, who takes over as president of the National Real Estate Development Council, said the order would not cause problems for projects which have not started, but the status of ongoing ones would be uncertain. “There should be a different yardstick for construction in urban areas, where less land is available,” he said, adding that forest land invariably get encroached by slums.
Developer Vimal Shah of Hubtown said builders are still trying to find out if the order is applicable to everyone. “If it’s blanket, many projects could get affected in and around Mumbai,” he said.
Welcoming the apex court order, environmentalist Debi Goenka of Conservation Action Trust said it was long overdue. “This will give us an opportunity to reopen this vexed issue. Hopefully, the past efforts of the builders and their political friends will get undone,” he told TOI.
He called the procedure followed by the ministry to reduce the buffer “extremely flawed”. “There are no proper maps, and no demarcation of the boundaries of the proposed eco-sensitive zones,” he added.
In an earlier order, the Supreme Court had directed states to notify an area of 10km along national parks and sanctuaries. This was based on the recommendations made in the National Wildlife Action Plan of 2002. Goenka said despite several reminders from the environment ministry, no state government was willing to do so.
“Suddenly, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) submitted a suo motu report to the Supreme Court recommending that there was no need for a 10km buffer and that the distance could be reduced on a case by case basis, depending on the size of the national park or sanctuary,” he said. The CEC recommended that the smaller the park or sanctuary, the smaller should be the eco-sensitive zone.