The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) recently decided upon two projects that raise questions about its intentions. It rejected the proposal to build a school by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) citing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules but approved the proposal for a Golf Course by Mistry Construction Co Pvt Ltd within a day of receiving it.
The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, regulates all developmental activities in Coastal Regulation Zones. It does so for “protecting and improving the quality of the coastal environment and preventing, abating and controlling environmental pollution in the Coastal Regulation Zone areas in the State of Maharashtra.”
We found that the golf course threatens the wetlands and yet has received a go ahead.
One meeting, two contradictory decisions
In December 2022, MCZMA had to decide on two proposals. We perused the minutes of the 162nd meeting of MCZMA held on 7th December 2022 and found an interesting story of the authority applying different yardsticks to examine the proposals put before it.
Item No 4 of the meeting was about proposed construction of a school on land bearing plot no. 15 A, Sector 10 A, Airoli, Navi Mumbai by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). The NMMC officials presented the proposal before the authority.
The NMMC had proposed construction of a school building, with a ground floor and two upper floors. The school would have 31 classrooms, library, laboratory, computer lab, staff room, principal’s cabin, two lifts, toilets for girls and boys, corridors, parking, multipurpose hall on 2nd floor etc. The total area of the plot is 3500 sqm and the total proposed built up area is 3700 sqm.
The NMMC officials presented that the site is situated in CRZ II area. However, the MCZMA officials noted that as per the forms submitted by the NMMC, the site is situated in CRZ IA and CRZ. After deliberation, they decided to reject the proposal as the building would have to be constructed on land which falls in CRZ. Construction on such land is not permissible to protect the vulnerable coast.
In the same meeting, another proposal came up for revalidation of CRZ clearance for proposed Golf Course at Sector 60. Nerul, Navi Mumbai by M/s Mistry Construction Co. Pvt Ltd. Prior to that, CIDCO had informed M/ Mistry Construction Co. Pvt Ltd that revalidation of CRZ clearance falls within the domain of MCZMA and had advised to seek clearance from MCZMA.
On 7th December 2022 the MCZMA after deliberation decided to clarify that the CRZ recommendation dated 11th January, 2018 read with letter dated 12th March, 2018 is valid for seven years i.e. till 10th January, 2025. This is subject to compliance of 14 conditions mentioned in the minutes of the meeting, which include planting indigenous trees, preserving mangroves and so on.
Golf Course on wetlands: an ecological disaster
In this case, the MCZMA failed to examine the Coastal Zone Mapping Plans approved in February 2019 by the environment ministry, which has identified this area as CRZ IB, that is intertidal zones.
Moreover, the whole area earmarked for this golf course is wetlands forming part of National Wetlands Atlas and is protected by a Supreme Court order.
The two wetlands, NRI wetland and TS Chanakya wetland, are known for attracting thousands of flamingos during winters when the birds leave their feeding grounds in Thane creek during the high tide, and come to Navi Mumbai to roost.
The important ecological function of these two wetlands has been pointed out by several environmentalists, the state forest department (which intends to declare the water bodies as conservation reserves) and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which conducted the biodiversity assessment for the Navi Mumbai International Airport project at CIDCO’s behest.
It is learnt that the BNHS representative Rahul Khot, who was also present at this online meeting, voiced his objections. However, they have not found any mention in the minutes that are approved and uploaded on the website of MCZMA.
Different yardsticks for different projects?
We would like to draw attention to the fact that the CRZ recommendation dated 11th January, 2018 was given on the basis of a false declaration by erstwhile Managing Director of CIDCO denying existence of any wetlands in this area. Interestingly, Bhushan Gagrani, who signed the letter as CIDCO’s MD, is now a member of the MCZMA committee as representative of the Urban Development Department, Maharashtra government.
Why did MCZMA approve the Golf course project which is not only in violation of CRZ Notification 2011, but also endangering wetlands protected by Supreme Court order?
It has the power to take the necessary measures for protecting and improving the quality of the coastal environment and preventing, abating and controlling environmental pollution in the coastal areas. It deals with environmental issues relating to Coastal Regulation Zone which may be referred to by the State Government, the National Coastal Zone Management Authority or the Central Government.
The MCZMA is constituted from time to time by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi, the latest consist of 12 members, eight members from different government departments such as Revenue, Industries, Urban Development , MCGM. Four members are experts from multidisciplinary fields. The MCZMA was reconstituted on 13th April 2015 by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi.
Given its duties and powers, it is disturbing to see that the MCZMA is endangering crucial wetlands for the sake of a golf course. While sensitive lands under CRZ must be protected from any construction, be it a school or any other building, it is highly suspicious and surprising that the authority has rejected an education institution and at the same time approved a golf course, which will be of value and use to only a select few.