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The Times of India
The Times of India
Swati Deshpande | TNN

State approach to Uran bypass road faulty, halt all work till August 5: Bombay HC

MUMBAI: The Bombay high court recently said that the state’s “approach towards planning” of the Uran Bypass Road appeared to be prima facie “faulty” and directed that for a “limited period” till August 5, no further work on the 11-meter wide road project should go on.

“We do not propose to stay the ongoing work indefinitely,” said the HC, seeking information from the state by Friday on “what positive steps it proposes and on what schedule”.

“We find it astonishing that no thought has been given to the plight of persons directly affected by this project, even though the livelihoods of the petitioners are said to be adversely affected, and that too permanently. Simply throwing money at people is not an answer to what is evidently a displacement problem, question of involving the livelihood of the poor and the marginalized, and essentially a question about the human condition of persons who depend on fishing for their daily earnings,” said the HC bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Gauri Godse on July 29, after state additional government pleader K S Thorat said the fisheries department will do a survey and prepare a report. “Then there will be an assessment for compensation,” said Thorat.

The bench was hearing a petition by 134 traditional fisherfolk. Earlier on July 5, the HC had sought further report from the state and CIDCO after the traditional fisherfolk from Uran Koliwada, through their counsel Zaman Ali, said the bypass project affected their fish landing and boat maintenance area.

On July 29, the HC noted that the state only sought adjournments. CIDCO advocate G S Hegde said it was only executing the bypass project required by the state. Justice Patel’s bench said, “We do not see how the project alignment could have been decided before doing a survey, and before assessing the impact on petitioners.”

It surely stands toreason that any such survey would have had to be done first, whether by theFisheries Department or some other department. Further, if the statement isthat the Petitioners will be given “compensation”, then that necessarilyimplies that there is in fact an adverse impact on the Petitioners as a result of theproject. The State Government cannot simultaneously say in one breath thatthere is no impact and also say that compensation will be given.’’

The HC said it is a “question of involving the livelihood of the poor and the marginalized, and essentially a question about the human condition of persons who depend on fishing for their daily earnings.’’

It questioned the State’s “implicit suggestion that the alignment of this bypass is somehow written in stone and no other alignment is possible’’.

“We do not believe that the Koli fishermen have ever been consulted nor have their objections or suggestions been invited since 2018. They are simply supposed to quietly accept a complete eradication of their centuries-old traditional fishing landing sites and are supposed to somehow manage for the rest of their lives and through future generations,’’ observed the HC adding, “ No principle of development planning or environmental law allows us to accept such a stand’’.

The CIDCO Affidavitsays that bypass construction work has been awarded to the lowest bidder, JM MhatreInfra Private Limited. The HC said it was an additional complication since if work is delayed—“only because the State Government did not care to carry out a proper survey and assess the impact on the petitioners — the contractor is bound to raise a dispute about the delays.’’

"There are bound to be claims for compensation for the delay and perhaps even escalation claims. The result will be a second level impact of an increased cost per kilometre and that will have to be borne from the public exchequer,'' the HC added in its interim July 29 order, made available on Monday.

The HC order said, “If the survey is to be carried out (and we are now not requiring the State Government to go back to a process of public consultation at this late stage) then we must at least know within what time the survey will be carried out, by whom and what it is that will be assessed. Inevitably, until we are told that, we are constrained to direct that no further work should be carried out on the project for a limited period.’’

It also directed “an officer of the State Government from the department responsible for the project and from the Fisheries Department must be present in Court on the next date to answer any queries and to assist’’ the AGP Thorat.

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