The bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Rama Subramanian issued notices to the central and state governments, BMC, MMRDA and Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority in a petition filed by group of residents largely from Versova. Their counsel Devadutta Kamat argued that forest clearance for the project was pending and, hence, felling of mangroves must be stayed.
The residents had gone to the apex court against the December 2020 dismissal of their PIL by the HC. The PIL filed in 2019 had expressed concern at the destruction of mangroves that would be caused by the bridge project. It had also asked the BMC and MMRDA to reconsider the plan to connect Versova and Lokhandwala.
The BMC said the public project “connects the missing link between Lokhandwala and Versova across a creek”, will cut down travel time to five minutes from 35, and reduce traffic congestion and fuel consumption, thus is environment friendly. It had assured replantation of trees and was awaiting forest department clearance since other permissions were in place.
The residents said there are three proposed link roads which would pass through the mangroves at three places and would not resolve the prevailing traffic congestion.
While dismissing the PIL, the HC bench had imposed a cost of Rs 2 lakh on the petitioners observing they had “suppressed” a “crucial” 2017 order. The HC had also expressed “grave doubt as to whether this is a genuine PIL”.
The residents moved SC against the HC judgement. Denying any suppression, they said the interim order had merged with a final order in 2018 by which the HC had barred construction in the buffer zone of the mangroves.
The residents said the SC has mangroves are vital for healthy marine ecology. The SLP said a question of law is raised over whether the HC judgement can be set aside as it did not consider “loss of ecology” nor did it consider that a report prepared by BMC through National Environment Engineering Research Institute and National Institute of Oceanography stating the proposed construction was in a residential area and would cause greater noise pollution due to rise in traffic congestion, which in turn could be detrimental to the ecosystem of the mangroves and its vicinity. Citing a study, the SLP said there are over 30 species of terrestrial avian fauna in the mangroves.