The Bombay high court on Tuesday quashed the Coastal Regulation Zone clearances granted to the city civic body's ambitious Rs 14,000-crore coastal road project, saying there was "serious lacuna" in the decision-making process and lack of proper scientific study.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice N M Jamdar in its ruling said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation cannot proceed with work on the 29.2 km-long project, proposed to connect Marine Drive area in south Mumbai to suburban Borivali in north Mumbai.
The court noted that the environmental clearance was required to be taken by the BMC under Environmental Impact Assessment notification issued by the Centre.
"We declare that the civic body cannot proceed with the works without obtaining an environmental clearance under EIA notification. Further, permission under the Wildlife (Protection) Act-1972 should also be obtained," the high court said.
The bench quashed the CRZ clearances while allowing a bunch of petitions filed by activists, residents and fishermen from the city challenging the project.
"It is obvious that a serious lacuna has occurred in the decision-making process. We hold that there is lack of proper scientific study and this has been overlooked by Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority, the EIA and the Union ministry of environment and forest," the court said.
The bench quashed and set aside the approval granted by the MCZMA on January 4, 2017, the nod given by the EAC on March 17, 2017 and the final approval granted by the MoEF on May 11, 2017.
BMC's counsel Darius Khambata sought a stay of the order to appeal in the Supreme Court.
The request was, however, refused by the high court.
In its order, the court said the MCZMA and the Union MoEF ought to have independently applied their mind to see whether a proper scientific study was conducted on the project and what was its impact on ecology.
The bench refused to accept the BMC's argument that there was a dying need for the coastal road project so as to decongest the city's roads.
"The need has to be more than a crying need. It has not to be a need of convenience. It has to be a need based on exhausting all possible solutions," the court said.
The bench, however, upheld the December 30, 2015 amendment to the CRZ Rules which permitted reclamation of land in coastal regulated areas for constructing roads.
"The central government took care to hedge the permissible activities upon the conditions of it being an exceptional case. Thus, we find that the amendment is not ultra vires the Environment Protection Act," the court said while upholding the validity of the amendment.
The court, however, held that permission to reclaim land for constructing a road in coastal regulated areas must be sparingly used and in essence must be exercised rarely.
In April, the high court prohibited the BMC from carrying out any further work on the project following which the corporation appealed in the Supreme Court.
In May, the apex court permitted the corporation to carry out the existing work, but prohibited it from doing any new work.
The apex court then directed the high court to take up the petitions for final hearing.
The petitioners challenged the reclamation and construction work for the project on the primary ground that it will result in damage to the coastline and destroy major marine life along the coast and livelihood of the fishermen.
They claimed that the coastal road project will irreversibly damage the coastal ecosystem and deprive the fishing community in the city of its source of livelihood.
The BMC earlier told the high court that it had all the necessary approvals for the project.
Khambata argued that the coastal road project was trying to address the issue of traffic congestion in Mumbai.
The project, proposed to connect south Mumbai with north western suburbs of the metropolis, was one of the flagship infrastructure schemes of the BJP-led Maharashtra government.