Bombay HC Permits Felling Of 22,000 Mangrove Trees For Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Rail Project Citing 'Public Interest'

The National High Speed Rail Corporation's plea in 2020 initially sought permission to cut 53,467 trees to clear the path for the bullet rail.

21,997 mangrove trees to be cut for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project

The Bombay High Court on Friday gave a go ahead to the National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL) for cutting 21,997 Mangrove trees in Mumbai, Palghar and Thane to clear the route for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project "in public interest," a proposal that has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists and conservationists. 

While refusing a plea filed by the NGO Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) seeking a stay on the order, the Court instructed the NHSRCL to abide by all terms and conditions in the project's approvals as well as its assurances to the court. 

Court orders Compensatory Afforestation

Earlier on December 1, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Abhay Ahuja had reserved its order on the firm's 2020 plea that initially sought permission to cut 53,467 trees to clear the path for the bullet rail. Following the union and state governments' interventions, the bench had sought a reduction in the number of trees needed to be felled for the project. 

Against this backdrop, Advocates Pralhad Paranjape and Manish Kelkar, appearing for the Rail Corporation, informed the court that the revised proposal required 21,997 trees to be felled for the project. The firm has also committed plant five times the total mangrove trees that were earlier proposed to be felled as compensatory afforestation. To this end, the NHSRCL submitted that it had already paid the Mangrove Cell to plant 2.5 lakh saplings as a compensatory measure. 

The plea also highlighted that as per an order by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest dated March 29, 2019, the NHSRCL had been instructed to rework the pathway for the rail project, shifting it away from the Virar and Thane stations, which would automatically bring down the number of trees to be felled. 

In this regard, the Corporation has submitted that it had shifted its stations and was granted permission from all relevant authorities for the same. 

Environmentalists' opposition to the project

The NGO, represented by Advocate Sheetal Shah, however, argued that such a permission must not be granted to the Corporation and sought the court's intervention to prohibit the use of explosives for construction by the NHSRCL. BEAG also contended that the environmental feasibility of the compensatory planting of saplings has not been carried out. 

As per a 2018 order of the high court, there exists a "total freeze" on the destruction of mangrove forests across the state and permission has to be sought from the court each time an authority wishes to fell mangrove trees for any public project.

The Corporation refuted these objections raised by the NGO and reiterated that it had all necessary approvals green lighting the felling of trees for the project of "public importance," which was accepted by the Bombay high court.