Greens Challenge CRZ Nod for  Balaji Temple

Move NGT afresh on wetlands day

NatConnect has moved the NGT seeking restoration of a tidal influential zone allotted “illegally” by CIDCO
MUMBAI: In a World Wetlands Day initiative, a city-based environmentalist has moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to seek restoration of a tidal influential zone which has been “illegally” allocated by CIDCO for Tirupati Balaji temple at Ulwe in Navi Mumbai.
NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar filed the fresh application on Friday challenging the coastal regulation zone permission given for the temple ignoring the fact that the plot is part of a temporary casting yard meant for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL).
The casting yard has come up on intertidal wetland, mudflats and mangroves, the applicant said. He presented a google earth map of 2018, prior to the existence of the casting yard, which showed the biodiversity area with tidal waters, fishing ponds, mudflats and mangroves.
Kumar had moved the NGT in October last year challenging the allotment of 10 acres out of the 18-hectare vesting yard. Even as the hearing was on, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) has informed the NGT that it has given the CRZ nod vide a letter dated November 20, 2023.
Kumar’s counsel Ronita Bhattacharya pointed out that the final permission was not in public domain and the MCZMA was yet to upload it on its website.
Noting the concerns expressed by the counsel, the NGT’s western zonal bench -– comprising judicial member justice Dinesh Kumar Singh and expert member Dr. Vijay Kulkarni –permitted the filing of a fresh application against the CRZ clearance.
Kumar, therefore, filed the application on Friday and said “on this World Wetlands Day, we want to focus on the plight of our vanishing wetlands under the garb of infrastructure projects.”
“We have nothing against the temple and, on the contrary, we request CIDCO to allot an alternative plot, away from the ecologically sensitive zone,” he said.
The fresh application at NGT prayed for setting aside the MCZMA’s permission given for the temple on plot number 3 at Sector 12, Ulwe in Panvel Taluka.
The activist also urged the NGT to direct CIDCO to restore the free flow of intertidal water from the Thane Creek to the entire 18.7 hectare casting yard plot and ensure the resurrection of mangroves.
CIDCO, which allotted the area for a temporary casting yard, sought to make the landfill a permanent reclamation, Kumar argued.
The MCZMA has not considered the fact that the casting yard was of a temporary nature and that the area was an ecologically sensitive zone dominated by tidal influential zones, mudflats and mangroves, the application pointed out.
The applicant submitted that the project site is actually land traditionally used by the local fisher folk  of Ulwe/Gavan was being used by the local fishing community for entering the creek as well as for fishing in the intertidal waters before 2019, prior to the use of the land for the purpose of the casting yard of the MTHL project.
The fishing community in Ulwe/Gavan comprises over 1000 families who engage in traditional fishing for generations within their families.
The fishing community was later barred from entering the area by the contractor for the MTHL project when the land was being utilised majorly for the casting yard. The fishing community was hopeful that they would get access to the area after the temporary casting yard work is over. 
But their expectations were proved to  be futile as the temple project is now proposed at the same site. It is noteworthy that the forest department’s site inspection report dated October 8, 2023 also noted the presence of an existing natural fishing pond right next to the project site.
In view of all these, Kumar pleaded with the NGT to save nature and have the coastal biodiversity zone restored.