The Supreme Court has stayed laying of paver blocks on the roads in Maharashtra’s Matheran till further orders, saying it would prima facie destroy the hill station’s natural beauty.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath was dealing with applications that involved issues with regard to allowing e-rickshaws in Matheran, a small hill station located nearly 85 kilometres from Mumbai, and laying of paver blocks on the roads.
In its February 24 order, the bench noted the submissions that Matheran’s special status was recognised by the apex court and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a notification on February 4, 2003, declaring the hill station and the surrounding region as an eco-sensitive zone.
“Prima facie, we find that laying down of paver blocks would destroy the natural beauty of the said city. It cannot be in dispute that even prior to laying down of paver blocks, man-pulled rickshaws were plying on the roads in the said city. If that be so, there should be no difficulty in e-rickshaws plying on the same roads, which are in existence for ages,” the bench said.
The top court observed that even in reserve forests, there are no concrete roads and the safari vehicles ply on forest roads.
“The same can also be considered for the city of Matheran. This, in our view, would balance the concern of both the sides,” it said.
The bench said the February 2003 notification provides for the formation of a monitoring committee comprising representatives of the MoEF, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), department of environment, department of urban development and subject experts.
It said it would be appropriate that the committee takes a call with regard to allowing e-rickshaws and laying of paver blocks.
“We, therefore, direct the monitoring committee to take a call on the aforesaid two issues and submit its report within a period of eight weeks from today. We further direct that until further orders, no further paver blocks be laid on the roads in the city of Matheran,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing after eight weeks.
The court took note of the submissions made by advocate K Parameshwar, who is assisting it as an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) in the matter, that on account of restrictions on allowing any vehicle within the city of Matheran, a lot of inconvenience is caused to its inhabitants.
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The amicus said children in the city find it difficult to go to schools, solid waste is required to be carried on the head by the inhabitants, causing serious health hazards and LPG cylinders cannot be distributed among the residents.
He submitted that the inhuman practice of man-pulled rickshaws is still prevalent, which is in derogation of the right to life, as enshrined under the Constitution.
The amicus said if e-rickshaws are allowed, those pulling rickshaws manually can use e-rickshaws, which, in addition to continuing to provide livelihood to them, will also be helpful to the citizens.
Appearing in the matter, senior advocate Shyam Divan said on account of the laying of paver blocks on the roads, the entire beauty of the city is being compromised.
The bench took note of Divan’s further reliance on certain photographs to show that horses have fallen and gotten injured due to the laying of paver blocks.
“No doubt that the environmental aspect and specifically, when the city of Matheran has been notified as an eco-sensitive zone, has to be preserved. However, at the same time, the human beings residing there and the man-pulling rickshaws also need to be taken into consideration,” the bench said.
The apex court had directed the state government in May last year to file an affidavit giving information regarding the steps taken to introduce eco-friendly e-rickshaws and the working of the e-rickshaws on an experimental basis.
It had allowed the state to implement the pilot project for three months and introduce a few e-rickshas to ascertain the feasibility of the project in Matheran.
The bench was then hearing an application that had sought permission for the operation of e-rickshaws in the Matheran eco-sensitive zone.