In rush for Shivaji memorial bhumi pujan, Maharashtra govt cut corners for green nod

The Maharashtra government’s Public Works Department (PWD) has taken many short cuts in the process for obtaining the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) approval to build a Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea off south Mumbai, according to RTI responses made available to The Indian Express.

For instance, the state PWD said the distance of the proposed site — a rocky outcrop in the bay between Nariman Point and Raj Bhavan, off south Mumbai — from the Gateway of India was 2 km while seeking MoEF approval in February 2015, whereas the distance was actually 12 km.

This is not the only aspect that raises eyebrows in the state government’s rush to seek clearances for the site of the project which has huge political resonance in Maharashtra and has been a poll plank for both the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and the Opposition Congress-NCP.

The alternate sites proposed by the PWD for consideration were not serious options, as they are either heritage sites (Elephanta Caves) where construction is not permitted, or naval areas (Oyster Rock) which are out of bounds for civilians, or areas with rough seas and restrictions (Khandheri Island).

Moreover, the PWD had commissioned an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the site it wanted months ahead of getting the go-ahead from the MoEF. Neither of the two alternate sites considered in the EIA was in the list of three alternate sites the PWD forwarded through the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) to the MoEF for consideration. The MoEF cleared the project based on the pre-done EIA, not deliberating over the MCZMA-forwarded list of four options.

All this took place amid a flurry of correspondence from the state government, including from the Chief Minister, to the MoEF, pushing for permission stating that a “bhumi pujan” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already been finalised.

Work on the statue is currently halted after a Supreme Court stay in January 2019 on a special leave petition filed by the Conservation Action Trust (CAT) that challenged MoEF’s decision.

According to documents obtained by The Indian Express under RTI, after the MoEF issued a draft notification on December 11, 2014, allowing construction of memorials/ monuments and allied facilities in CRZ-IV areas, the state PWD was required to submit a justification for locating the proposed statue in CRZ area, along with details of alternative, with relative weightage for each on various parameters.

The PWD had to submit this “weightage matrix” of all options to the MCZMA which had to recommend a particular site from the list to the MoEF. The central ministry then puts it to an in-house expert appraisal committee, which takes the call on giving the government permission to prepare an EIA under the Terms of Reference (ToR) set by the ministry. The final clearance is given after ascertaining compliance with the ToR.

Accordingly, on January 20, 2015, the PWD submitted a list of nine possible sites, along with a weightage matrix for each. The PWD list proposed the current site as the most suitable, with a highest score of 32. But minutes of an MCZMA meeting held three days later revealed that only four sites were discussed, and the current site was recommended to the MoEF with a score of 72.

Six parameters were considered for each site – distance from the Gateway of India, space availability, feasibility of construction, heritage structure or forts at the site, safety and environmental issues, and each assigned a particular weightage. Environmental impact accounted for 40%, space availability 20%, and 10% each for the remaining four parameters.

The weightage of the favoured site got bumped up as PWD’s submission stated the distance of the proposed site from the Gateway of India as 2 km. However, the PWD’s own traffic study in 2014 said the proposed site was 12 km from the Gateway of India.

The MCZMA then wrote to the MoEF recommending this site on January 23, 2015, stating “the site appears to be the suitable location as compared to other sites in respect of better accessibility, 16 hectares of space availability, safety point of view and low impact on coastal environment with environmental safeguards.”

The PWD made a presentation on the four sites before an expert panel of the MoEF on January 29, 2015. The MoEF granted the Terms of Reference (TOR) for preparation of the EIA at the recommended site through a letter to the PWD on February 5, 2015.

But as the promise to build a Shivaji statute in the Arabian Sea had been made by the previous Congress-NCP government as well, the PWD had already commissioned an EIA for the proposed site from NEERI and NIO in May 2013. At the time, CRZ-IV was still a ‘no go’ area for construction of memorials. The EIA report was ready in November 2014. The MoEF notification permitting memorials in CRZ-IV came in December 2014.

The NEERI-NIO report considered the proposed site, and two others, all three located at various points in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast. The other two sites it considered were not included by the PWD in its weightage matrix that it submitted to MCZMA.

The PWD submitted this EIA to MoEF on February 2. Three days later, on February 5, the MoEF granted the Terms of Reference. Four days later, on February 9, as the EIA had already been submitted, the MoEF expert panel recommended grant of environmental clearance. Finally, CM Devendra Fadnavis wrote to then Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on January 30 requesting clearance before February 19. The formal letter was issued on February 23, 2015.

MoEF Secretary Chandra Kishore Mishra was not available for comments. Arvind Kumar Nautiyal, Joint Secretary of MoEF, could not be reached. An email query sent last Thursday to Mishra and Nautiyal did not receive a response.

When contacted, PWD secretary CP Joshi, said the report on alternate sites was prepared by a consultant. “There could be some anomalies in it that can be corrected. We had submitted the proposal through an online system,” he said.