In a setback to environmental activists, the Bombay High Court on Friday (October 4) refused to declare Aarey colony a forest and dismissed petitions against the decision of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority to fell and trans-place over 2,600 trees to build a metro car shed in the green lung of the city.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre quashed four different petitions filed by an NGO, an environmental activist and a Shiv Sena leader on issues related to the Aarey colony in Goregaon.
Hearing the plea filed by city-based NGO Vanshakti, claiming that the Aarey colony, which measures 1,287 hectares, had several exotic flora and fauna, the court said, “The remedy is before the Supreme Court or the National Green Tribunal. We have applied the principle of commonality and not decided on merit.”
Earlier, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni had told the bench that an appeal against the HC order refusing to declare Aarey a forest was already pending before the Supreme Court.
Another petition by green activist Zoru Bathena, who pleaded that the area be given the status of a floodplain, too was dismissed.
In two separate petitions, Bathena and Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav challenged the tree authority’s nod to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd to fell 2,185 trees, and uproot and replant 461 trees in Aarey colony. Bathena’s counsel argued that the authority’s decision was taken in “haste and without proper application of mind”.
Dismissing both the petitions, the bench imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Jadhav, who is also a member of the BMC tree authority. “We gave you (Jadhav) a choice to withdraw the petition but you chose to pursue it,” the court said.
Meanwhile, in their affidavits in response to Bathena’s plea, the MMRCL and the BMC said the petition was stalling a public transport project which is in larger public interest and a vital public infrastructure. The affidavits claimed that the project was environment-friendly and needed to be completed soon.
“The metro project is expected to wean people away from using cars, taxis and two-wheelers and hence will result in a sharp reduction in atmospheric pollution,” the affidavits said, adding that the delay in construction of the car shed will cause ₹4.23-crore loss per day to the company and the state government.