In a recent order, the National Green Tribunal has directed the BMC not to give any nod for construction in Aarey Colony, which is an Eco-Sensitive Area; it has also directed the civic body to take immediate action if any illegal construction is found taking place
In what is an important order to protect the rich biodiversity of Aarey Milk Colony (AMC), which acts as a buffer zone for Sanjay Gandhi National Park and is also within the 10-km radius of the park, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said in its recent order: “We direct that BMC shall not issue any further NOC for construction within the entire Eco-Sensitive Area (ESA) in Aarey Colony and if any such illegal activity is noticed, immediate action shall be taken, including demolition thereof, without any delay.”
The proposal submitted by the state government defining the Eco-Sensitive Area (ESA) for SGNP has clearly said that “the entire Aarey Colony” is similar to SGNP and is an ESA. File pic
The NGT is hearing a plea filed by NGO Vanashakti and a few others, which seeks the declaration of Aarey Colony as a No Development Zone (NDZ). In the order which the NGT passed on August 19, it has been stated that the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Sanjay Laske, has filed an affidavit stating that entire Aarey Colony area is shown as an ESA.
The order also states that the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) has also not granted any permission for tree felling or construction activity within the area. The CCF has also said that no such activity will be allowed henceforth, until the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) takes a particular decision in the matter except the existing constructions, which have already come up due to apartment constructions or illegal buildings.
The order also states, “ The BMC, the Director of Aarey Milk Colony and CCF shall give notices to the project proponents of the construction work and keep status till further orders are passed in this application. They also may issue directions to such project proponents to file application for intervention in the present application if such construction activities are claimed to be legal or that any such activity is required.”
The proposal submitted by the state government defining the Eco-Sensitive Area for SGNP has clearly submitted that “the entire Aarey Colony” is similar to SGNP and is an ESA. This also means no permission for constructions can be given in Aarey Colony.
The Supreme Court, back in 1996, had ordered the identification and notification to be done for all forests irrespective of whether the land has been notified or denotified. The same order was reiterated again in 2006 in the Goa Foundation Case.
“The state government kept mum on this and it was on February 14, 2013, that they had submitted a proposal for declaring the SGNP as ESA. This was done one day before the deadline lapsed (February 15). If this were not done, it would have implied that a 10-km ESA would apply around SGNP. To avoid that and benefit constructions, this was done at the last minute,” said an environmentalist.
After submission of the proposal, the state went back on its word and resubmitted another proposal for ESA in 2015. “In July 2015, the NGT again reminded the state government to follow the Hon’ble Supreme Court order and identify and protect all forest lands irrespective of ownership.
The developer's lobby has managed to keep the government from obeying the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court for almost 20 years,” added the environmentalist. Now that the NGT has passed an order, it also means that no permission for constructions can be given in Aarey Colony.
“The proposal submitted by the state government defining the ESA for SGNP has clearly submitted that “the entire Aarey Colony” is similar to SGNP and is an Ecologically Sensitive Area. Having declared this and submitted a proposal, the BMC despite being in knowledge of this proposal went ahead and made a DP (Development Plan) allowing all kinds of constructions inside Aarey.
This is nothing but complete defiance of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” said the environmentalist. The Save Aarey Conservation Group members had taken the initiative to approach the NGT so that the Aarey Colony is declared a No Development Zone. The next hearing in the same is scheduled on September 10, 2015 and the committee that has been formed will start visiting AMC by September 1.
“It’s a landmark judgment passed by NGT, and all the concerned conservation groups as well as authorities should now get together to form a consolidated conservation plan for Aarey. In the long term, this could be a path leading to conservation of all the protected spaces, in the country,” said an active member of Save Aarey Conservation Group, Anand Pendharkar, founder of NGO Sprouts.