No conservation fee if construction outside ESZ: Bombay high court
MUMBAI: Observing that the forest department cannot not levy a "conservation fee" on commercial activities outside the eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) surrounding national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, the Bombay high court struck down a Rs 4 crore demand made on a Thane developer.
The moot question involved is whether the 2 per cent of project cost is to be deposited even if the petitioner's property is not within the ESZ, said the HC, and held that the forest officer was acting "beyond the authority" as the department was unable to show any legal provision that permits them to seek such a fee as deposit.
The principal chief conservator of forest and director, Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the national board of wildlife, may not be in a position to exercise their authority beyond the ESZ, said a division bench of Justices SV Gangapurwala and Vinay Joshi in a May 4 judgement. The HC summer vacation started on May 7.
Sai Pushp Enterprises and it's director Yogesh Puranik, the developer, building a residential and commercial complex at Kavesar on Ghodbunder Road in Thane, had petitioned the high court challenging a June 2018 order of the standing committee of the national board of wildlife (NBWL), which had approved the project proposal subject to payment of 2% of the Rs 200 crore project cost as "conservation fee".
"When the activity of the petitioner is beyond the ESZ, then in that case, they would not have any authority to demand the deposit of the amount," the bench said.
The builder had applied to Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) for a plinth commencement certificate, and last June for part occupancy certificate (OC). The TMC said he needs to first pay the "conservation fee" to the forest department. The builder then moved the HC and said the forest department lacked legal authority to demand such "conservation fee" as the project was outside the ESZs of both - Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
The forest department said it was within a 10km periphery of the national park and referred the file to the standing committee of NBWL.