The Supreme Court today – Monday, Oct 7 – stayed further cutting of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey colony and ordered the Maharashtra government to maintain status quo till the next date of hearing on Oct 21.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Maharashtra government, told the bench that “Whatever has to be cut is cut. Nothing further is to be cut”.
A Special Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan was hearing a Public Interest Litigation against felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony. The special bench was constituted after converting into a PIL a letter from a group of law students to the Chief of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, requesting that the top court intervene to stop the cutting of trees immediately.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) was ordered by the BMC to cut 2,185 trees and transplant 460 on a 33-hectare land at Aarey for the construction of a MetroLine 3 rake depot. It had cut as many as 2,134 trees on Friday.
“Don’t cut anything now,” a special bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said, adding that “Aarey forest was a no-development zone and not eco-sensitive zone as claimed by petitioner.”
The court also asked the state government to submit a status report on the number of trees felled so far and the compulsory afforestation by the Mumbai metro. The court asked the Maharashtra government, “Tell us how many saplings you planted. How have they grown? What’s the status of your forests?”
The top court’s questions came after Mumbai Metro on Sunday claimed that it had planted 24,000 saplings in to replace the trees that have been felled.
The tree-cutting began on Friday night amid protests after the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition challenging the decision of the BMC’s Tree Authority to allow the cutting.
Claiming that the felling of trees is illegal, 100 to 200 protestors gathered at the Picnic Point in Aarey Colony between 8.30 pm and 11 pm on Friday. In the melee that followed, police claimed, several protesters allegedly assaulted a police inspector and a male constable. Section 144 was imposed in the area and 29 of the protesters were arrested. They were released on bail on Sunday by a holiday court.
The apex court directed that if anybody is still under arrest for protesting the cutting of trees, they should be released forthwith on furnishing of personal bonds.
Maharashtra Government told the bench that all those arrested for protesting against cutting of trees in Aarey have been released.
Protests have been taking place against the construction of a car shed for the Mumbai Metro at the colony for two years. The issue has also taken a political turn just two weeks ahead of state elections. Except the BJP, which has maintained that the car depot in Aarey Colony would be in the interest of the city, its ally Shiv Sena, opposition parties Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Samajwadi Party, have all gatecrashed the ‘Save Aarey’ movement.