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‘No more trees to be axed’ in Aarey Colony: SC order status quo till next hearing on Oct 21

Meanwhile, the 29 activists, who were arrested on Saturday after a huge ruckus by environmentalists protesting tree felling, were released from Thane jail after bail was granted to them on Sunday.

SNS | New Delhi |

In a huge relief for environmental activists, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Maharashtra Government to not cut more trees in the metro-rail project site in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony.

The court ordered that status quo should be maintained regarding the felling of trees at Aarey Colony till the next date of hearing on October 21.

The apex court had held a special hearing over the Maharashtra government’s decision to fell over 2700 trees in Aarey Colony to build a metro car shed.

The apex court took the decision based on a letter written to Chief Justice of India on Sunday by a group of students with regard to “felling of trees in Aarey forest”, registering it as a Public Interest Litigation.

Through the letter, the students requested the CJI to take “cognizance of the Aarey matter for a stay on tree-axing undertaken by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai with Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and Mumbai Police”.

“The present representation is made by a delegation of responsible students who are sorry to disturb you during the vacation but having no other option and in urgency, we came to the guardian of constitution values expecting relief,” the letter reads.

“This letter is for your urgent and kind attention into the matter concerning Aarey Forest in Mumbai. We believe that no procedure or technicalities can bar us from coming to the Supreme Court, your lordship. (But) By the time an appeal is filed in the Supreme Court, we feel the part of Aarey will be cleared with all trees axed leading to irrevocable loss. As we write this letter to you, the Mumbai authorities continue to kill the lungs of Mumbai by clearing the trees of Aarey forest near Mithi Bank river.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the state government assured the bench that no trees will be cut henceforth.

During the special hearing, Justice Arun Mishra asked if the Aarey forest was an eco-sensitive zone or not and sought papers to prove the area is eco-sensitive zone.

“Tell us whether it was an eco-sensitive zone or not. It was a no-development zone not an eco-sensitive zone. This is what we get, show us the documents.”

The court further asked the state government to include the Union Environment Ministry as a party in the case.

The next hearing of the case will be on October 21.

Meanwhile, the 29 activists, who were arrested on Saturday after a huge ruckus by environmentalists protesting tree felling, were released from Thane jail after bail was granted to them on Sunday.

They were arrested from Aarey Colony on charges of disturbing public order and obstructing government officials from performing their duties.

The activists have claimed that more than 1,000 trees have already been cut down.

Protests were held late Friday night and continued during the wee hours of Saturday as authorities began cutting down trees at Aarey Colony to build an upcoming metro car shed.

The hacking of trees later resumed in the area on Sunday with the imposition of prohibitory orders.

Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) had started hacking trees from Friday to make way for a car shed, hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and activists challenging the decision to allow felling of over 2,700 trees in the prime green lung of the city.

The Metro Bhavan, to be built at a cost of around Rs 13 crore, will be spread over 1.14 lakh sq metres in the lush green Aarey Colony, Goregaon. It has attracted stiff opposition from Mumbaikars, environmentalists and celebrities who fear huge loss of green cover due to the project.

The state government on September 20 told the court that Aarey Colony cannot be declared a forest just because of its greenery.

Known as the Green lung of Mumbai, the Aarey Colony is situated near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Several leaders including Jignesh Mevani, Aaditya Thackeray had shown their protest against the cutting of trees in Aarey Colony and had appealed to the people of Mumbai to resist the “illegal” action.