The Bombay High Court on Monday imposed a cost of Rs.1 lakh on Abhivyakti, an NGO that filed a public interest litigation claiming that 6 hectares of land owned by City Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (CIDCO) in Sector 18-19 at Khargar, Navi Mumbai is a water body connected to the Panvel creek.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre held that the said PIL was frivolous and motivated to somehow or other stall the development work in the area.
According to the petitioner, water flows from the Panvel Creek into the depression in the 6 Hectare of land, resulting in a pond being created. Referring to the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 framed thereunder, petitioner pleaded that the land be declared as a Wetland and protected. It was claimed in the PIL that debris is being dumped in the land and 90% of the water body has already been encroached upon.
Advocate Subhash Jha appeared for the petitioner and GS Hegde for CIDCO.
CIDCO filed an affidavit-in-reply and informed the Court that the said piece of land is in the revenue estate of village Owe, Kharghar and Taloja. Through a notification dated March 20, 1971 land in said villages was notified for development, which included the subject land. CIDCO submitted that no pond ever existed.
It was further contended that by way of compensation to the owners of the subject land, as per law, 12% of the developed land was handed over. CIDCO denied that the subject land was connected to any creek. With reference to the revenue record, CIDCO pleaded that the land is jirayat, meaning that during monsoons water would accumulate in the land and during the non-monsoon seasons the said land was cultivated.
However, the petitioner did not refer to the averments made by the CIDCO in the counter affidavit and took a different route. They referred to decisions which highlight the importance of wetland in the eco system and stated that the Supreme Court has directed identification of Wetlands in India under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010. Also, that it is the duty of the authorities to notify Wetlands.
Thereafter, Sub Divisional Officer, Panvel filed an affidavit stating that a request has already been made to the Director, Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre by the Collector, Raigad to do the needful.
Along with this, an affidavit was filed by the Under Secretary, Urban Development Department, and a letter dated September 6, 2018 issued by the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre was annexed as per which NWIA Atlas mapping was carried out in the said area during the 2005 using satellite data and no such wetland was mapped either in Sector 18 or 19.
In response to this, petitioner NGO filed a rejoinder stating that the Indian Space Research Organization, Ahmedabad at Gujarat has done the necessary mapping and has given Wetland code 1200 and 1202 to man-made Wetlands.
Court noted that the response received from the Director, Space Applications Centre (ISRO) on November 22, 2018 states that satellite mapping by ISRO did not detect any wetland at the latitude and longitude referred to in the satellite image mapping by the Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre.
"It is apparent that the case initially projected by the Petitioner was that the Wetland was created on account of the land in question being connected with the Panvel Creek. This is factually incorrect. The Petitioner thereafter changed track to plead that the water body was on account of the land being depressed and rain water accumulating. This fact was refuted effectively by the Respondents…
The Petitioner then changed the track by pleading that as per National Wetland Atlas prepared by ISRO, Ahmedabad, Wetland code 1200 and 1202 referred to man-made ponds."
Thus, the bench concluded-
"The pleadings and the documents which we have noted herein-above bring out the changing stand of the Petitioner and additionally that the PIL was motivated to somehow or the other stall development work in Navi Mumbai.
Raising the boogie of environment being damaged and annexing with the PIL Google images obtained during monsoon season, the PIL came to be filed."
Holding the PIL to be frivolous, Court dismissed the same imposing a cost of Rs. 1 lakh made payable to the High Court Legal Aid Fund.
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