Aarey Forest: The Supreme Court Directs State To Stop Cutting Trees, Hearing On Oct 21
After a disaster in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony when the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (MMRCL) chopped down trees, the Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to stop cutting trees in Aarey area and directed to maintain status quo till the next hearing on October 21.
But according to a number of environmental groups, the damage may have already been done as the MMRCL saying they have cut down 2,141 trees since the Bombay High Court gave the green signal on Friday. The numbers are 98% of the 2,185 trees the MMRCL had demanded to cut to make the car shed of the Colaba-Seepz, Andheri, Metro 3. MMRCL said another 461 are to be transplanted. In a statement released, MMRCL said it would stop cutting trees but will continue other works, including clearing away the felled trees.
After taking into account the Maharashtra government’s assurance that no tree will be cut further, the Supreme Court said, “As undertaken, status quo be maintained till the next date of hearing with respect to cutting of trees.” It also said its forest bench will look in the matter for further hearing on October 21 and even directed the state to file a report on how many trees have been cut in Aarey and the number of newly planted saplings with photographs as proof by the next date of hearing.
After a group of law students wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to intervene in the matter, the CJI constituted a special bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan for the hearing, even though the court remained closed for a week due to Dussehra vacations.
A major protest occurred after the trees began to be felled in Aarey from Friday evening, within hours of Bombay HC upheld the Tree Authority’s decision to allow the axing of the tree. Later, police had to crack down on the protesters to bring the situation under control. A number of protesters were arrested and 29 of them were jailed until they were given bail on Sunday. The Mumbai Police imposed Section 144 at 6 am on Sunday and will continue till 6 am on Tuesday.
Representing the state of Maharashtra, Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, told the bench that neither he nor the petitioner has all the relevant documents but assured them that the state will not carry out further cutting of the trees. He also said the state has done the compulsory forestation and more than 20,000 trees with GPS-tagging were planted in SGNP with a surviving rate of 95%. He mentioned that those arrested during the protest against the cutting of the trees have all been released.
The bench deemed Mehta’s assurance as fair. “It is stated by him that the incumbents who have been arrested have been released. It is further submitted that in case anybody has not been released so far, he/she be released immediately on furnishing personal bond. Let the statement made be carried out in pith and substance,” said the bench.
MMRCL spokesperson made a statement after the ruling, “Following the decision of the hon’ble high court on 4/10/19 upholding the permission of the Tree Authority, the felling of 2,185 trees was undertaken on October 4 and 5, 2019, and as on date, 2,141 trees have been felled. These will be cleared from the site and subsequent construction activities will be carried out.” According to him, the MMRCL has successfully planted 23, 846 trees and distributed 25,000 saplings as a part of its green initiatives.
On October 5, the Bombay High Court had refused to further entertain urgent mentioning by Aarey activists to stay the ongoing cutting of trees.