The cancellation, while not a complete surprise, places the prestigious project firmly in the crosshairs as a test case for balancing our development with environmental mindfulness
In a judgement that is likely to have ramifications well beyond this one project, the Bombay High Court has thrown out the approval given by the Coastal Regulation Zone authority to the city’s coastal road project.
The Rs 14,000 crore Coastal Road project is planned to connect south Mumbai’s Marine Drive area to Kandivali in the north. The project has been mired in controversy for some time now, and the challenge in the High Court was mounted by environmental activists, residents and the fishing community from Worli Koliwada.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice N M Jamdar was responding to a public interest litigation filed by the petitioners praying for directions to BMC to stop work on the project.
For a city that is slowly acquiring a notorious reputation for vanity projects with questionable value vis-a-vis their environmental and real costs, the coastal road project stands out spectacularly. Even as the city’s public transport service BEST has been starved of funds for running at a loss, the coastal road is being heavily subsidised for the benefit of what in effect are overwhelmingly, private cars.
Amazingly, the road even does away with the most loved feature of Maharashtra’s roads – tolls. Its high cost makes tolls on the road a non-starter from any financial evaluation, so the city builders have simply made it a toll free road. The vast majority of Mumbai’s citizens, who will never have a need or benefit from the road, are thus subsidising the road for the city’s relatively well-off. If ever there was an example of the realty mafia’s ‘capture’ of any city’s resources, the coastal road would be a hard example to beat.
Of course, one imagines the High Court has actually not even gone into these issues in making the judgement. It has probably looked at procedural lapses, and possible undervaluation of the massive environmental impact of the project, in cancelling the approval for now.
But with such a strong lobby backing it (The SC had lifted an earlier stay on May 6), the fight to make the city planners do the right thing for Mumbai’s citizens, and provide them a transportation option that is actually beneficial for the vast majority, is likely to be a long drawn out struggle.
Issues raised by citizens include access for citizens to the seafront and the possible end of fishing for the city’s fishermen community thanks to the destruction of breeding areas for fish.
What is worse is that even the environment report recommended a policy for the city’s fishermen (without mentioning the Koli community that comprises most of them) as a precondition for starting work on the project. A recommendation that was simply ignored.
Mitigations like building 11 kms of the 34 kms on reclaimed land from the sea have been cited. On the logic that land reclamation has no impact on the sea. An unreal claim looking at the experiences of cities around the world when land has already been reclaimed.
All taken together, one hopes that the Bombay High Court’s decision will open up the project to serious evaluation on the basic parameters and identify just how a project of this magnitude gets going without proper checks.
It could be a lesson in either how to get anything done in the city, or how it is waking up to the risks of poor decision making.