By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jan 28 (IANS) In a surprise development, the Aarey Colony matter was “disposed off” by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi on January 24 with lawyers and activists claiming on Tuesday they were not given a chance to attend the hearing.
The matter of Aarey Eco Sensitive Zone and other cases from the Western Region’s Video-Conferencing Bench, were scheduled for a regular hearing on January 24.
However, on around 4.pm. on January 23, the lawyers of all petitioners were telephonically informed from the NGT Registry, Pune (Tel. 020-39820126) that all the video-conferencing matters were postponed to March 3.
Moreover, instead of the designated Western Region Bench, the Aarey ESZ matter would be heard by the Principal Bench (Court No. 1), New Delhi headed by NGT Chairperson Justice (retd) Adarsh Goel, the NGT New Delhi registry informed when asked about the change in plans.
“Accordingly, most lawyers and activists cancelled plans to go to New Delhi or Pune. We learned about the directions to transfer the matter from the Western Region to the Principal Bench when I called up the NGT New Delhi,” said advocate Zaman Ali, representing environmental NGO Vanashakti, told IANS.
The NGT registry also said that in case the lawyers were not present, a fresh date of hearing would be given in the matter, according to Ali, who termed the telephonic instructions as “strange and unheard of”.
Much to the shock of the various petitioners, the case was “disposed off” by the NGT’s Principal Bench, without lawyers from either the petitioners’ side or the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) present, Vanashakti Director Stalin Dayanand said.
MoEF lawyer Rahul Garg confirmed the developments, but said he did not receive any calls from the NGT registry.
“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,” Garg said.
Another prominent activist-lawyer Surendra Dhavale said that in recent years, the NGT has been adopting a “negative, un-cooperative attitude” and rejects environmental cases even if “there is solid documentary evidence”.
“It is no longer advisable to waste time and resources with the NGT. It is better to move the high courts or the Supreme Court in environmental matters,” said Dhavale, whose around a dozen major cases were “disposed off”.
anashakti and Ali had questioned the MoEF notification of December 5, 2016, which allowed “infrastructure projects, etc” to water down the stringent rules for ‘eco-sensitive zones’ around pertaining to all sanctuaries and national parks.
The notification affected the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai, since the latter is an eco-sensitive zone, acting as a “buffer for wildlife” in case of any natural calamities inside the reserved areas.
Garg said that at the previous hearing, the Western Region bench had ordered the MoEF to explain how the green cover in the buffer zones outside the SGNP was reduced, but now the matter has been disposed off.
The Aarey Colony matter had created a national furore after the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. had chopped off a staggering 2,141 of the permitted 2,185 trees on October 4-5, 2019, at the speed of one tree per minute.
Dayanand and other activists plan to move the Supreme Court to challenge what they term the “arbitrary” manner in which the NGT Principal Bench had disposed off the matter that has raised doubts.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])
By Quaid Najmi