On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed a Bombay High Court order that had quashed Coastal Regulation Zone clearance granted to the southern part of Mumbai’s coastal road project. A look at the project, why clearance had once been squashed, and what happens after the stay.

What is Mumbai’s Coastal Road project?

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link in the financial capital was originally planned as one arm of a longer sealink that would connect Bandra, queen of the suburbs, with Nariman Point, the commercial hub of south Mumbai. The Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link was already tendered out when, in 2011, amid wider differences between the Congress and the NCP on various issues, then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan suggested replacing it with a coastal road, a sea-kissing highway that would be less expensive than a sea link. The sea links were then being planned and executed by the NCP-controlled Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).

The government appointed a technical committee and it reported that while the sea link could cost approximately Rs 600 crore per kilometre, reclamation of land along the coast for a seaside highway would cost Rs 100 crore per km. The Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link project was cancelled abruptly, and replaced with plans for a coastal road connecting Nariman Point with Kandivali, a suburb towards the northern end of the western seaboard. This is planned to be a 35.6-km freeway that will complement another freeway running along the eastern coastline, from South Mumbai to Chembur. While driving from Nariman Point to Kandivali in average traffic is today at least a 2-hour journey, the coastal road will reduce travel time between these two points considerably. Eventually, Chavan also decided that the coastal road would be built by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, not the MSRDC. The Bandra-Worli Sea Link was completed in 2009. In the decade since, traffic between the suburbs and south Mumbai has grown even as Mumbaikars wait for the next logical arm of the proposed connectivity between Bandra and Nariman Point.

Were all approvals for the project in place before litigation began?

June 2015 was a milestone for the project and for infrastructure development in Mumbai for, after a complete ban on reclamation for nearly 25 years, the central government gave permissions for the reclamation. Much of Mumbai as we know it today is on reclaimed land, and the proposed reclamation for the coastal road was given the nod conditional to final CRZ clearances. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) considered the proposal for CRZ clearance in July 2016, after the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) accorded sanction. The MoEF&CC, however, sent the proposal back — it lacked a disaster management plan, the environment impact reports had lacunae and there was also no approval from the state and central pollution control bodies. It also said the proposal failed to highlight the exceptional circumstances for grant of clearances for reclamation.

In October 2016, the BMC submitted a revised proposal to the MCZMA, limiting it to the first phase of the project. This is a 9.9-km coastal road from Marine Drive to the Worli or south end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Only 90 hectares would be reclaimed in this phase. Of this, 20 hectares would be used for the road while the remaining reclaimed land would house parks, cycle lanes, jogging tracks, promenades, and open green spaces, a luxury in Mumbai. The MoEF&CC granted its final CRZ approval in May 2017.

What is the dispute?

Environmentalists, activists and fishermen opposed the project. Their main contention was that the BMC is implementing the project with faulty and ‘illegal’ green clearances accorded in May 2017 by the MoEFF & CC. They have claimed the project lacks a mandatory prior environmental clearance under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006. Activists had demanded that a biodiversity study of the Mumbai coast is also required before going ahead. Activists have argued that BMC had cut several corners to get clearances. They also called a National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) report flawed as it relied on only 14 days’ pre-monsoon data. An EIA study requires impact in all four seasons to be studied, they contended. Fishermen also claimed that the reclamation will destroy shallow water fishing and increase the turbidity of water, and that the narrow gaps between pillars will hinder movement of fishing boats.

Is the proposed coastal road to be entirely built on new reclamation?

According to the BMC designs, the coastal road will be a combination of roads on stilts, roads built on reclamation, a small sea link our bridge portion, and a proposed under-sea tunnel, as well as the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

From the Princess Street flyover on Marine Drive to the Priyadarshini Park garden, there is a provision for an underground tunnel. From there, a land-fill road in the inter-tidal zone runs from Priyadarshini Park to Mahalaxmi temple. The next section is in close proximity to two key religious institutions, the Mahalaxmi temple and Haji Ali Dargah, and this section will be a sea-side road with space for pedestrian circulation. Further north, there is to be reclamation on the seaward side of the existing shore, currently marked by a rocky outcrop. An embankment will be constructed on this reclaimed portion, which then merges with the Worli-Bandra Sea Link.

The rest of the highway is to be considered in Phase 2, for which clearances are still to be sought. This will include a coastal road from the Bandra end of the Sea Link till Khar Danda village, where a small bridge on the sea-ward side of Chimbai village will provide navigation space for fishing boats. The land filled road is proposed to be designed so that it does not obstruct a dense mangrove patch here. From Carter Road to Bharat Nagar, the alignment is a tunnel that starts near Ritumbara College. From the Bharat Nagar end of the tunnel to Kandivali junction, a double-deck elevated corridor and a road on stilts over a dense mangrove area will go further north via Andheri West to Kandivali. A spur is to be built for future connectivity all the way to Madh Island. Of the 35-km freeway, roughly 18 km will be constructed on reclaimed land. The two tunnels will be about 9 km in length.

What happens now?

After the Supreme Court stayed the Bombay High Court’s July order on Tuesday, the BMC will resume reclamation work at four points – Priyadarshini Park, Napeansea Road, Haji Ali and Worli. Work will begin on Wednesday. In July, when the HC had quashed the MoEF&CC’s CRZ clearance for the southern stretch of the project, the BMC had already completed four to five per cent of reclamation required at these sites. Having exhausted their legal remedies, the petitioners who said on Tuesday that they were disappointed with the SC order, said they would work with the government and authorities, and would try to ensure that the livelihood of fishermen is not impacted.

Source: The Indian Express

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment & Biodiversity