In its judgement passed on a bunch of petitions that the court had been hearing since 2005, the HC ruled that destruction of mangroves was in breach of the citizens' fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
A bench of Justices A S Oka and R I Chagla Monday said that the state was duty-bound to protect and preserve all mangrove-rich land across Maharashtra.
The bench said that any ongoing construction work on mangrove land and its surrounding buffer zone must be stopped immediately, and that henceforth, no construction on such area will be permitted unless in a rare case meant for public good.
Such permission, though, will be granted only through an order of the high court, the bench said.
It directed the state to identify all private mangrove land parcels as protected or reserved forest area in accordance with the Indian Forests Act, 1927, and, accordingly, transfer such areas to the jurisdiction of the state Forest Department.
The state will have to notify all private mangrove land as protected forest land within 18 months from now, the bench said.
The bench also prohibited any dumping of construction debris or other waste on mangrove land.
All development plans in the future will keep in consideration the above judgement, the bench said.
The judgement came on a bunch of petitions filed by the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) as well as some private individuals from across the state.
In 2005, another bench of the high court had passed a landmark interim order with directions similar to the ones passed above to protect mangroves.
The pleas, however, had highlighted several instances of rampant destruction of mangroves and wetlands across the state.
While upholding most of the directions of the 2005 interim order, the bench said Monday that, henceforth, any destruction of mangroves will invoke penal legal action against violators.
It also directed the state government to constitute, within a month, a committee for protection and preservation of mangroves.
This committee will also be responsible for checking violations and ensuring that all directions in the judgement are implemented.
The petitioners had earlier told the court that the existing Mangrove Cell of the state government had failed to implement the 2005 order, and instead, it had regularised over 3,800 illegal structures on mangrove land.
The bench said Monday that the state will now have to restore to its "original condition" such mangrove land that had already been destructed.
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