The Bombay High Court Friday refused to stay work on the Rs 3,600 crore Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj memorial in the Arabian Sea being built by the Maharashtra government. The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by nine environmentalists seeking a stay on the work of the memorial.
A division bench of Chief Justice N H Patil and Justice G S Kulkarni refused to grant interim stay on the project work as sought by three public interest litigations which raised questions on the government’s decision to spend so much money on a statue.
HC had directed the Centre to file its reply to the petition within a month. After repeated reminders, and the failure of the Centre to do so even after seven months, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice G.S. Kulkarni said,
“We may observe that the decision to have a project of this nature is a policy decision taken by the state. We are sure that the state government has given appropriate consideration on all the financial issues before taking a policy decision to undertake the project in question,” the court said in its order.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had, through a notification on February 17, 2015, inserted clause (D) in the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) rules which read, “The Central government may, if it considers necessary, dispense with the requirement of a public hearing referred to in sub-item (B), if it is satisfied that the project will not involve rehabilitation and resettlement of the public, or the project site is located away from human habitation.”
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoi had argued that this amendment was illegal on the grounds that it was not present in the draft notification released on December 11, 2014, and it was decided without a public hearing.
The court rejected the claim. The Bench said, “It is stated that the project does not involve rehabilitation and resettlement of public. It is stated that the memorial is aimed at not only providing a place for people to visit but also creating an internationally-acclaimed landmark. It also cannot be overlooked that the project is considered by the State government to be of national importance.”
Senior counsel V.A. Thorat said, “construction of the memorial and the allied facilities by the State had commenced, as an exceptional case with adequate environmental safeguards as a permissible activity. The final environmental and CRZ clearance dated February 23, 2015, was granted by the MoEF&CC after a detailed study and after ascertaining the compliance of all requirements and after following proper procedure”.
The Maharashtra government had on Thursday informed the court that it has received all environmental clearances for the project, which includes clearances from 12 public authorities: MoEF&CC, fisheries department, Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai Port Trust, National Security Guard, Mumbai Police, Western Naval Command and Terms of Reference from MoEF&CC, Coast Guard, Mumbai Maritime Board, Indian Navy, Airports Authority of India, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, and the Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking.