The Supreme Court was hearing a batch of applications filed by activists and residents, alleging that the authorities have resumed cutting trees in the Aarey forest, despite a status quo order issued in October 2019.
The construction of the Metro-3 car shed in Aarey Colony is a long-pending contentious matter.
In October 2019, the Supreme Court had ordered a status quo on the project after a group of law students wrote to the Ranjan Gogoi, who was then the chief justice of India, asking him to intervene and stop the cutting of trees in what is considered the last remaining green lung of Mumbai.
In November 2019, the Maharashtra government, led by Uddhav Thackeray, had stopped work on the Aarey car shed. On October 11, 2020, Thackeray had announced that 800 acres of land in the Aarey Colony would be declared a reserve forest and that the car shed for the metro project in the area would be relocated to Kanjurmarg.
But last month, Eknath Shinde, the new chief minister of Maharashtra, overturned Thackeray’s decision to shift the Metro-3 car shed out of the Aarey Colony.
On July 21, the state urban development department issued a letter to the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited to complete the shed work at the earliest. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited is executing the project.
On Friday, Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh, representing the petitioners, told the Supreme Court that the authorities have started clearing the forest area, disregarding the proposal to move the car shed to Kanjurmarg, Live Law reported.
In response, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited, argued that no trees have been cut in Aarey since the status quo order in 2019.
“Only weeds and bushes on the ground were cleared,” Mehta submitted. “There is an approach road, there were branches that required trimming for vehicles to pass through, and trimming took place. No trees were cut. They [petitioners] have shown photographs of some other areas.”
After hearing the submissions, the bench, which also comprised of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Aniruddha Bose, said that there was no need for an interim order on the matter at this juncture.
“Suffice it to say that as stated by the concerned respondent, no further trees have been cut since the order dated October 7, 2019, and shall not be cut in any manner till the next date of hearing,” the bench.
The court will hear the matter next on August 13.
Save Aarey protests
In October 2019, 38 people were booked for carrying out protests against the authorities’ move to cut trees in Aarey. The Bombay High Court had dismissed a series of petitions to stop the work and give it the status of a forest.
While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited claimed it would compensate by planting thrice as many saplings elsewhere, protestors demanded that the car shed be shifted to an alternative site. Till October 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the car shed.
After assuming the chief minister’s office in November 2019, Thackeray announced that his government will withdraw cases registered against the activists who tried to stop the felling of trees in Aarey Colony.