In an interim relief to green activists, the Supreme Court on Monday (October 7) stayed the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony until the case is decided, but the Mumbai Metro had felled 2,141 trees, about 40 less than the required for its car shed.
“Don’t cut anything now,” said a special bench, which was constituted by the top court on the basis of a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India against the felling of trees in Aarey. The state government also assured the bench that henceforth no trees will be cut.
Trees were being axed in the Aarey forest by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) for the construction of a Metro car shed. Within a few hours, the Mumbai Metro said it has stopped cutting trees in Aarey Milk Colony in line with the SC order.
“No future tree felling activity at the car shed site in Aarey Milk Colony will be undertaken. Other works, including clearing of already felled trees, will continue at the site,” a Mumbai Metro spokesperson said.
However, the spokesperson also mentioned that 2,141 trees have been felled. The rail agency had earlier sought permission for felling of 2,185 trees, and only 44 trees were left out.
“These will be cleared from site and subsequent construction activities will be carried out,” the spokesperson said.
During the hearing on Monday, the petitioners told the court that Aarey was deemed as an “unclassified forest” by the state government and that felling of trees is illegal there.
However, after perusing the notification issued by the Maharashtra government, the apex court said that the Aarey forest was a no development zone and not eco-sensitive zone as the petitioners claimed. It also ordered that status quo should be maintained regarding felling of trees in Aarey.
It also directed that if anybody is still under arrest for protesting the cutting of trees, they should be released forthwith on furnishing of personal bonds. To this, the Maharashtra government told the bench that all those arrested for protesting against cutting of trees in Aarey have been released.
Further, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Maharashtra government, submitted to the bench that he was not aware of all records.
The top court’s forest bench will next hear the plea on October 21. It has also asked the Union Environment Ministry to be a party to the case.
The apex court decided on Sunday to register as PIL a letter addressed to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on cutting of trees. A notice was also posted on the Supreme Court website about holding the urgent hearing by constituting a special bench.
The student had requested the Supreme Court “to exercise its epistolary jurisdiction to protect Aarey without getting into technicalities as there was no time for preparation of a proper appeal petition and cover the scars of these young activists who are responsible citizens standing for serious environmental concerns”.
The letter also said that students have moved the apex court as the Bombay High Court rejected the bail plea of 29 activists who had participated in the “peaceful vigil” against the tree-felling and have been detained by Mumbai Police. However, the arrested activists were granted bail and released late on Sunday night.
(With inputs from agencies)