Bombay High Court dismisses petitions on Aarey Colony, says ‘greens have failed’

“The greens (environmentalists) have failed,” the Bombay High Court said on Friday, while refusing to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declining to quash the BMC tree authority’s decision allowing felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro carshed.

The court imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav, who opposed the approval given by the BMC tree authority, of which he is a member, for hacking trees in the green belt.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and environmental activists on issues related to Aarey Colony in Goregaon, a major green lung of the metropolis.

The court termed all the petitioners as “Davids” taking on the industrial “Goliaths”, apparently suggesting that they were fighting an unequal battle.

One of the pleas moved by city-based NGO Vanshakti had sought that Aarey Colony be declared a forest and an ecologically sensitive zone, while another petition filed by green activist Zoru Bathena had pleaded that the area be given the status of a floodplain.

Two separate petitions were filed by Bathena and Jadhav, challenging the decision of the BMC tree authority permitting the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to cut 2,656 trees to construct a metro carshed in Aarey Colony.

Dismissing the petition filed by Vanshakti, the court, in its judgment, noted that the issue was already decided by an earlier bench of the high court and the matter was presently pending before the Supreme Court.

“The greens (environmentalists) fail in the instant petition because they have lost touch with the procedure to be followed as per law. The clock cannot be put back. We do not make any comments thereon as the petitioner has to now swim or sink before the Supreme Court,” the court said.

Dismissing the petitions filed by Bathena and Jadhav, the bench said the greens had failed on merit.

“The tree authority’s decision-making process was fair, transparent and based on reason. The greens fail not on account of sailing their boats in the wrong channel but on merits,” the court said.

The bench imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on Jadhav.

“It (Jadhav’s plea) is sans any material and bereft of concise statements and details concerning the meeting of the tree authority held on August 29, 2019,” the court said.

It noted that there was no variation in the opinion of the members of the tree authority on whether the trees could be transplanted or had to be cut.

“There are good reasons for taking the view that the trees would not survive if transplanted and that it would be futile to spend good money to transplant the trees, which ultimately would by and large die,” the bench said.

The court also took note of the submission made by MMRCL counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the authority had already planted 20,900 trees in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

“This establishes that about seven times the number of trees to be felled have been replaced by planting of saplings,” the court said.

It termed all the petitioners as “Davids” taking on the industrial “Goliaths”.

“Relationship with nature and love for environment alone is true and all other relationships are unreal and temporary, is their (environmentalists’) belief. Their hearts are a temple of devotion to flora and fauna,” the court said.

“In the instant case, the Davids (environmentalists) row their boat with faith, courage and devotion in the storm of development but directionless,” the bench said in its judgment, dismissing the plea filed by Vanshakti.

It also refused to accept the contentions raised by Bathena and Jadhav in their pleas that the tree authority had granted approval in haste and without considering opposing views.

“We highlight that the deliberation by the tree authority members was not only at the meeting held on August 29, 2019. They had discussed the issue at site visits held on August 10 and 20, 2019. What was discussed at the site has been neatly presented as a bonsai in the report prepared by the tree officers,” the court said.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had given the tree-hacking approval on August 29, triggering protests by green activists and common citizens, who had launched a “Save Aarey” campaign.

Vanshakti, in its plea, had said Aarey Colony, measuring 1,287 hectares, had several exotic flora and fauna.

On the Vanshakti petition, the court said, “The remedy is before the Supreme Court or the National Green Tribunal. We have applied the principle of commonality and not decided on merit.”

The Maharashtra government had claimed that Aarey Colony could not be termed a forest and that the issue was already decided by another high court bench.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the state earlier, had said an appeal against the high court order refusing to declare Aarey a forest was currently pending before the Supreme Court.

Bathena, in his plea, had challenged the decision taken by the tree authority granting permission to fell trees.

The proposed carshed, part of the metro-3 project, will occupy 33 hectares in the southern part of Aarey Colony.

The authority has approved felling of 2,185 trees and transplanting (uprooting from the original spot and replanting them at an alternate spot) 461 trees from the area.

The authority’s approval is mandatory for felling more than 20 trees at a time at any place in the city.

Staying near refineries can pose health & security risks: Bombay High Court

 The Bombay High Court on Monday said making people stay in the heavily air polluted Mahul area of Mumbai may not only pose health risks, but also increase security concerns on refineries located in the vicinity.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre said the Maharashtra government cannot force any person to stay at such a residential colony in Mahul.

The bench was hearing applications of a group of people displaced following demolition of their unauthorised houses on the Tansa pipeline that runs across several parts of the city.

Relying on an April 2019 order passed by another bench of the high court, the bench led by Chief Justice Nandrajog on Monday said the government will have to either accommodate the displaced persons elsewhere, or give them Rs 15,000 each month as rent so that they can find their own accommodation.

Around 15,000 families were displaced after their “unauthorised” houses near the Tansa pipeline were ordered to be demolished by the high court last year.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had shifted the displaced people to a housing colony in Mahul, a polluted area where refineries and chemical units are located.

However, several families refused to move to Mahul, claiming that the air quality there was very poor and posed health risks.

“It is evident that residential premises in the vicinity of such refineries can pose multi-faceted risks, which are not only restricted to the health of residents nearby, but also security risk by way of a terrorist attack using these refineries as targets,” the bench said on Monday.

Such a terrorist attack would lead to colossal destruction within Mumbai city, it said.

The bench relied on an order passed by the National Green Tribunal in December 2015, stating that the presence of volatile organic compounds in Mahul makes the air pollution in the region harmful for human health.

“We have perused reports prepared by three government agencies – the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, the Central Pollution Control Board and NEERI – which show that the air pollution in Mahul continues to be disturbingly high and to this day, poses threat to human life,” the court said.

Around 200 of the 15,000 affected families have shifted to Mahul so far.

The court, in its order, said the government and the BMC shall not shift any more displaced persons to Mahul and shall also inform those persons who have been already shifted there that they can opt to leave the place.

After the bench passed its order, the BMC sought a stay so on it that it could approach the Supreme Court.

The bench, however, refused to grant the stay.

The Bombay High Court : How will a mobile app work in communication-hit JK .

The Bombay High Court on Thursday referred to the communication restrictions in Kashmir and sought to know how will a mobile application (app) proposed by RBI help visually-impaired people identify currency notes in such situations.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre made the reference to the temporary clampdown, which has affected mobile telephone and Internet services in Kashmir, after being informed by the RBI that it would be coming up with the mobile-based app which can be used by visually-impaired people to identify currency notes.

“Technology has its own limitations. What will happen when a visually impaired person loses his mobile phone network or is not allowed to use his phone somewhere,” Chief Justice Nandrajog asked.

“We have a state (Jammu and Kashmir) where mobile phones were not allowed…(post scrapping of J&K’s special status on August 5) there is no network connectivity in some parts. What will happen then,” he asked.

The court added that even in cities like Mumbai, a person sometimes does not have mobile phone network.

“We owe some obligation to the visually-impaired persons to make things easy for them. We should not be making things difficult,” Chief Justice Nandrajog said.

The court said the RBI, by now declaring it would come up with the mobile app was giving a solution to a problem that was its own creation.

The court was hearing a petition filed by the National Association of the Blind (NAB), claiming new currency notes and coins posed difficulty for the visually-impaired people in identifying and distinguishing them.

The bench on Thursday said technology like mobile apps are hardly a match for skills developed by a visually-impaired person by the touch of his hands.

“Nature has its own compensatory ways. Visually-impaired persons lose their sense of vision but their other senses like smell and touch are heightened,” the court noted.

By changing the size and dimensions of a currency note, the apex bank was taking away the skills developed by a visually-impaired person to identify such bills, it added.

The bench had last month asked the banking regulator to explain the need for changing the size and physical features of currency notes.

“The size and dimensions of the currency notes have been changed only once from 1967 to 2019. In 2018, the RBI changed certain features of some currency notes.

“However, in the future, there is not going to be any more changes,” RBI counsel Venkatesh Dhond said on Thursday.

When the court asked why after so many years, in 2018 the RBI felt the need to change the size and dimensions of the currency notes, he said one of the reasons was to make the notes “wallet-friendly”.

“Internationally, for example the US Dollar, the currency notes are wallet-friendly. Even the RBI felt the need to do the same,” Dhond said.

He further told the court that the new notes above the Rs 100 denomination have particular pattern markings on the side for identification purposes.

“These patterns are raised and are called bleed lines. However, they are not there in Rs 10 and 50 notes as we noticed that the patterns tend to fade sooner in these notes due to higher use,” Dhond said.

The court posted the petition for further hearing on Friday.

High Court junks plea seeking ban on ‘Alibaug se aaya hai kya?’ phrase

The Bombay High Court Friday dismissed a petition seeking a ban on the phrase ‘Alibaug se aaya hai kya?’, observing that there was nothing derogatory in it and it should not be taken as a humiliation.

As per the plea, the phrase is commonly used in Maharashtra to address someone who is considered foolish or naive.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice N M Jamdar dismissed the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Rajendra Thakur, a resident of Alibaug district in Maharashtra.

“Jokes are made on every community…Santa Banta jokes…Madrasi jokes and jokes on north Indians. Have fun… don’t get humiliated,” Chief Justice Nandrajog said.

“We do not find anything derogatory in this,” the bench added.

In his plea, Thakur said that the phrase is “unfair and humiliating” as it projected people of Alibaug as illiterates.

Thakur’s plea states that Alibaug is a well-to-do place, a major tourist attraction, and that it has several good schools and high literacy rate.

It also says that Alibaug has a rich culture and history.

“Alibaug is bestowed with nature with scenical beauty. In spite of having such a rich background filled with history, culture, industry, tourism, medical facilities, nature and education, it is highly objectionable to ridicule the people of Alibaug by projecting them as ‘illiterate’ who do not have common sense,” the plea said.

Thakur had urged the court to direct state authorities to get public refrain from making such a comment.

He had also urged the court to ensure that films, documentaries, TV serials, among others, that have the above phrase as part of its dialogue, are not granted censor certificate.

High Court directs Municipality to treat Sewage before it enters Sea

A bench of chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog & justice NM Jamdar also directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to seek quarterly reports from the BMC over laying down of new sewer lines to ensure that all the waste generated was treated before being discharged into the sea.

The direction came after the court was informed that the city civic authority was unable to prevent the discharge of untreated waste into the Mithi river that flows into the Arabian Sea.

The court was informed by MPCB counsel Sharmila Deshmukh that the BMC’s current sewage network did not connect the entire city & therefore, the existing sewage treatment plants (STPs) were working below their capacity.

As per an affidavit filed by the MPCB, while the total capacity of the city’s STPS was to treat 2,595 million litres per day (mld) of waste, it was treating only 2,016 mld.

BMC’s counsel Anil Sakhre told the court that the civic body was aware of the problem & it was planning to lay down new sewer lines in the city.

He said around 2,012-km of new sewer lines had to be laid down across the city.

The BMC has also commissioned eight new STPs, Sakhre told the court.

The court said the BMC was duty-bound to ensure that all the sewage generated in the city was treated at the several STPs managed by the civic body.

The bench directed the MPCB to also ensure that the BMC connected the STPs in the city to the new or extended sewer lines within a reasonable period of time.

The bench was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a non-governmental organisation highlighting the fact that coastal water & the Arabian Sea were being polluted due to the discharge of untreated effluents.