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On Last Day As Bombay HC Judge, Justice SJ Kathawalla Orders ₹10 Crore Interim Compensation For 953 Fisherfolk Families Affected By Infra Project

Sharmeen Hakim
23 March 2022 11:40 AM GMT
On Last Day As Bombay HC Judge, Justice SJ Kathawalla Orders ₹10 Crore Interim Compensation For 953 Fisherfolk Families Affected By Infra Project
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On his last working day as a Judge at the Bombay High Court, a bench led by Justice Shahrukh Kathawalla directed disbursal of ad-hoc compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to each of the 953 fisherfolk families being affected by an infrastructure project in Thane. "As the fisherfolk and their families cannot be expected to starve till the authorities decide the quantum of compensation…"...

On his last working day as a Judge at the Bombay High Court, a bench led by Justice Shahrukh Kathawalla directed disbursal of ad-hoc compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to each of the 953 fisherfolk families being affected by an infrastructure project in Thane.

"As the fisherfolk and their families cannot be expected to starve till the authorities decide the quantum of compensation…" the bench observed in their order.

It noted that despite six months having passed since the court's order to compensate the fisherfolk for the loss of their fishing livelihood due to an under-construction bridge, the compensation amount was not decided.

"We cannot expect these fisherfolk to wait one more year without any livelihood or compensation," the bench said directing MSRDC to determine the final compensation payable with the help of an agency within three months.

The court ordered that the amount of Rs. 10 crore deposited by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (MSRDC), should be transferred to petitioner Mariyayi Machhimaar Sahkari Sansthya Maryadit, and through them to individual fisherfolk.

The Trans Creek Bridge (TCB-III) is a proposed six-lane bridge on the Sion-Panvel Highway. It is being constructed as an addition to the existing Thane Creek Bridge, near Vashi, Maharashtra. "The documents, therefore, establish with sufficient clarity that the Project Affected Fishermen have a customary right to fish for a living in Thane creek," the court had said in its August 12, 2021 order, adding that they were entitled to compensation.

Fisherfolk re-approached the HC in the present plea after they received no compensation. Last month the HC ordered MSRDC to deposit Rs. 10 crore in the HC. 

However, MSRDC represented by Senior Advocate Milind Sathe, had opposed the disbursal of compensation on the ground that the impact of the TCB-III project on the livelihood of fisherfolk has not yet been ascertained. It is not known if the project will have any impact on the Koli community at all.

Sathe argued that money should not be disbursed till the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), who has been engaged to study the detailed impact of TCB-III on the livelihood of fisherfolk, submits its report.

CMFRI submitted that they would take at least another year to ascertain the impact of the project and they were not equipped to decide compensation.

The bench observed that it had already held in its August 12, 2021 order that, prima facie, the TCB-III project is likely to affect the fisherfolk and that they are entitled to be compensated for such loss. At the time they failed to advance the argument that the project would not affect them.

Therefore, the compensation committee was to only determine the precise extent of such loss and quantum of compensation.

Advocate Zaman Ali who appeared for the fisherfolk said they were deserving of interim compensation. Senior Advocate Sharan Jagtiani, appointed as amicus curiae by the court, further submitted that MSRDC's concerns of excess compensation were misplaced.

He pointed to the State's Draft Compensation Policy dated November 29, 2021, which adopts the approach of the National Green Tribunal. According to the NGT's calculation in the matter of Ramdas Janardan Kohli on February 27, 2015, compensation for one family was pegged at Rs. 6 lakh for three years.

The court said it found merit in Jagtiani's and Ali's submissions that in all likelihood the final compensation will exceed the present interim compensation of Rs. 1 lakh per family.

"…it is very likely that the final compensation amount will exceed Rs. 1 lakh per family," the court observed.

The court said they were ordering the amount to be disbursed through the fisherfolk society so that there is more accountability. It entrusted the responsibility of the society to reimburse MSRDC in case some fisherfolk are found ineligible for compensation. The amount would have to be returned to the court as the compensation is going through the funds MSRDC deposited in court.

"We accordingly direct the Registrar, Judicial I, of this Court to pay the sum of Rs. 10 crores deposited by MSRDC to the Petitioner within two weeks from today, who shall distribute it to its members in the sum of Rs. 1 Lakh per family."

The Judge Who Heard Cases Till 3.30am : Justice SJ Kathawalla Of Bombay HC Retires

Case Title: Mariyayi Machhimaar Sahkari Sansthya Maryadit Versus Department of Fisheries and others

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Bom) 96

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment


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