A Serious Setback for Environmentalists: SC Dismisses Appeal Against NGT Orders on Aarey Colony

On 15th June 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Vanashakti NGO, Mumbai, and its director Stalin Dayanand against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order. The 407 acres in the green Aarey Colony, Suburban Mumbai, is roughly the size of 18 Oval Maidans. The Colony can now undergo infrastructural and construction projects.

Background

Earlier in January, the NGT disposed of the “Aarey Colony matter” with a surprising turn of events. The NGT on 24th January 2020, disposed of the matter in absence of lawyers from either the petitioners’ side of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF). MoEF lawyer Rahul Garg stated that:

“It is also not clear how the case was suddenly transferred from the Western Region to the Principal Bench. Though there were no applications or any orders to the effect”.

In January, the tribunal had upheld a 2016 order of the MoEF to exclude 407 acres of over 15,000 acres notified as an Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Since the Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai is an ESZ, the notification affected it adversely. Therefore, Dayanand and the other activists planned to move the Supreme Court challenging the arbitrariness in the disposal of the matter.

NGO contends that NGT orders will affect the biodiversity of the park.

The environment ministry explained that they had informed the NGT that the state government had proposed the Metro rail shed in the Aarey land. Eventually, they excluded some slums from such a zone. The NGO contended that, “NGT had failed to consider that the excluded plot is a heavily forested land that boasts of trees of indigenous species and has varied flora and fauna”.

In addition, it stated that construction inside an ESZ will bring irreparable harm to the sensitive ecology of the region. It is home to 1300 species of flowering plants, 45 mammal species, 43 reptiles, 300 birds, and 150 butterfly species. As a result, the construction will have a huge impact on the entire biodiversity of the park.

The appellants faced a knock-back after the bench observed that Mumbai is a “congested city” and hence Metro was essential. The Supreme court on June 16, 2020, dismissed the appeal against the NGT orders. The bench comprised of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Abdul Nazeer who assessed the matter.