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Supreme Court halts laying of concrete paver blocks in Matheran's Ecologically Sensitive Area

Updated on: 25 February,2023 04:21 PM IST  |  New Delhi

The Bench directed the Monitoring Committee to submit a detailed report on the e-rickshaws pilot project and the laying of paver blocks before it within a period of eight weeks

Supreme Court halts laying of concrete paver blocks in Matheran's Ecologically Sensitive Area

Representational Pic

The Supreme Court has issued a stay on the laying of concrete paver blocks in the Matheran Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESZ), till further orders.

The direction was given by the bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Vikram Nath on Friday on the application by three representative associations of the horsemen (Ghodawala Sangathans) in Matheran.

The Bench directed the Monitoring Committee to submit a detailed report on the e-rickshaws pilot project and the laying of paver blocks before it within a period of eight weeks. The Court said, "We further direct that, until further orders, no further paver blocks be laid on the roads in the city of Matheran."

The court post-hearing said that it would be appropriate that the Monitoring Committee takes a call with regard to permitting the E-Rickshaws alongside the laying down of paver blocks.

"Prima facie, we find that laying down paver blocks would destroy the natural beauty of the city. It cannot be disputed that even prior to the laying down of paver blocks the man-pulled rickshaws were plying on the roads," Court said

It further stated, "If that is so, there should be no difficulty in the E-Rickshaws plying on the same roads, which are in existence for ages. Even in the reserved forests, there are no concrete roads and the safari vehicles are plying on the jungle roads. The same can also be considered for the city of Matheran."

"This, in our view, would balance the concern of both sides. We, therefore, direct the Monitoring Committee to take a call on the aforesaid two issues and submit its report within a period of eight weeks from today," the apex court added.

The court was hearing applications with regards to seeking a modification of the Order dated May 12 last year passed on an application by a Shramik Rickshaw Chalak-Malak Sevasanstha (the representative body of hand rickshaw pullers) vide which the Court permitted the implementation of a pilot project for the trial of e-rickshaws in Matheran ("pilot project").

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Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing on behalf of the Applicants submitted that the direction by the Court to allow the plying of e-rickshaws in Matheran fails to take into account the historical perspective and the unique place that the city occupies. It was argued during the hearing that as the only pedestrian hill station in Asia, the absence of any motor vehicles and the use of horses, toy trains etc., to commute and reach various sightseeing locations spread across the hill stations has been the essence of the charm of the hill town, and this Court ought to protect the said ethos.

Divan during the hearing further argued that such heritage ideation needs to be kept alive and that it was this innate ethos of Matheran that is at the risk of being lost by the introduction of the e-rickshaws, whereby, the introduction of the cheaper mode of transportation will result in the peace of the hill town being disrupted by the constant rumble of the motorized vehicles. Stating that the pilot project is essentially resulting in the creeping motorization of Matheran.

Owing to the argument in the case further Divan said in order to facilitate the plying of e-rickshaws in the Matheran ESZ, the Municipal authorities have taken steps to pave the roads with paver blocks thereby making extensive and permanent changes to the ecology of the Matheran ESZ.

Flagging the concern over the ecology and environment of the Matheran, Divan argued that such widespread construction activities in the Ecologically Sensitive Area of Matheran under the garb of the pilot project, the appropriate authorities, particularly the State of Maharashtra and the Matheran Municipal Council, have rendered nugatory and set to nought all the steps taken over the years to protect its ecology.

Amicus Curiae in the case, K. Parameshwar submitted that on account of the restrictions of permitting any vehicles within the city of Matheran, a lot of inconveniences are caused to the citizens. He submitted that the children in the city find it difficult to attend schools, and solid waste is required to be properly managed on the head of the inhabitants, which is causing serious health hazards, adding that LPG cylinders could not be distributed to the residents etc.

He further submitted that the inhuman practice of man-pulled rickshaws is still prevalent, which is in derogation of the Right to Life, as enshrined under the Constitution of India.

Advocate Nina Nariman also appeared for 'Ghodawala Sangathans' alongside the Senior Advocate Shyam Divan and was briefed by a team from Karanjawala & Co-led by Tahira Karanjawala, Principal Associate along with Arjun Sharma, Principal Associate, Shreyas Maheshwari and Ritwik Mohapatra, Associates.

Whereas, the State of Maharashtra was represented by Siddharth Dharmadhikari, Chief Standing Counsel. Advocate K. Parmeshwar, appeared as the Amicus Curiae in the matter.

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