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Restaurant on Beach: PIL against Illegal Construction on Beach

Posted by: Aditya Pratap Law Offices on 2024-03-01


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INTRODUCTION

In 2018, the Bombay High Court made it possible to pursue legal action against those in charge of the unlawful building nine years after the Sea Water Grille Restaurant ceased its operations on South Mumbai’s Chaupatty Beach Front. A Divisional Bench of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla directed the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (hereinafter MCZMA) to initiate actions including criminal proceedings, against all those responsible for violating the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules and provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

BACKGROUND

A Public Interest Litigation (from now on PIL) was filed in 2008 by a city activist named Amit Maru, over the failure of authorities to remove the restaurant with the liquor facilities that had come up in Girgaum. The restaurant was pulled down in the year 2009, but the petitioner sought action against the public officials who had allowed the construction to be put up in the first place.

Even the facts of the case show some sort of discrepancy on the part of the Government officials. In 2001, “Drishti Adventure Sports” (hereinafter Drishti) sought permission to set up water sports facilities at Chowpatty. In the course, they also constructed an illegal restaurant in the highly restrictive CRZ-1 area of the Beach against which any Government Body initiated any action. It was noted that the permission was granted by the State Urban Development Department (hereinafter UDD) with the condition that the food counter area would not be used for cooking purposes and rather pre-cooked food should be served to the customers by the restaurant owners. In 2005, the same was rejected by the UDD.

The Collector upon finding the possibility of any notorious activity, wrote to the Bombay Municipal Corporation (hereinafter BMC) to revoke the permission granted to Drishti in 2001. The BMC, possibly in support of Drishti, wrote back to the collector that it did not find any permanent structure at the Beach Front. In 2009 when the MCZMA visited the site it found facilities for cooking and heating of food in the kitchen. The collector thus ordered the removal of the illegal structures and ensured that the same was done by the respective authorities in 2009.

 

LEGAL POINTS AND ANALYSIS

The important legal point to be noted was that the PIL was lodged against the public officials who had allowed the construction to be put up in the first place. Drishti sought permission to set up a water sports facility in the highly restrictive CRZ-I area of the Chowpatty Beach Front. Since it was a CRZ-I area, illegal construction couldn’t have been implemented unless the municipal and government officials gave approvals.

Another argument by Advocate Aditya Pratap, counsel for the petitioner, was that since the area was classified as a CRZ-I area, no construction should have been allowed let alone its subsequent removal on the orders of the Collector. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a notification in February 1991 about the management of activities in the coastal area, by the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) is defined by the notice as the coastal area up to 500 meters from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a distance of 100 meters along the banks of creeks, estuaries, backwaters, and rivers that are subject to tidal variations. Four categories have been established for CRZ around the nation.

The intertidal zone and the land portion of the coastal region are the only areas covered by the notification above; thereby excluding the ocean region. The notification placed limitations on the establishment and growth of businesses that process braids, among other things, in the aforementioned CRZ. According to that notification, CRZ-I is ecologically sensitive and significant areas that include national parks and marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, wild habitats, mangroves, corals, and coral reefs; areas near fish and other marine life breeding and spawning grounds; areas of exceptional natural beauty; historical and heritage sites; areas rich in genetic biodiversity; areas likely to be inundated due to sea level rise as a result of global warming.

The notification further prohibited any construction in those areas. The fact that the demand for such construction was made by Drishti and the same was allowed by the Government Officials was illegal and made a strong argument on the part of the petitioners to contend and convince the Bench to their flavor. As a result, the Bench cleared the deck for the MCZMA to initiate any actions against the officials responsible (including criminal proceedings) for violating the rules and provisions.   

CONCLUSION

To conclude, environmental PIL lawsuits are essential to the goal of ecologically conscious and sustainable development. These instances are important not just for the pursuit of personal gain but also for the preservation of the environment and the general welfare of society. The results of these court cases can establish significant precedents, relating to laws and rules about environmental preservation. A strong legal framework that guarantees environmental concerns are not disregarded for the sake of industrial or economic expansion can be developed through judicial rulings, which is pertinent in the present case as well and for which the counsel actively fought.

Therefore, these court decisions support a more inclusive and democratic approach to environmental governance by giving voice to individuals who are directly impacted by environmental challenges. They encourage stakeholders to embrace sustainable practices and give the planet’s long-term health priority, acting as a catalyst for change. In the end, these legal initiatives are crucial to creating a future where the delicate balance between environmental preservation and human growth is upheld for the benefit of both current and future generations.

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.

This article has been assisted by Kush Shanker, a 2nd year law student pursuing B.B.A.,LL.B. from the Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.

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