No Tree Felling In Aarey Colony Till Sept. 30, Bombay High Court Tells Mumbai Metro
Residents protest against the cutting of trees in Aarey Colony area to make the car shed for the Mumbai Metro project, in Mumbai on Sept. 15. (Photo: PTI)

No Tree Felling In Aarey Colony Till Sept. 30, Bombay High Court Tells Mumbai Metro

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The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. shall not indulge in tree-felling in the Aarey Colony area till Sept. 30 to make way for a car shed.

The court will hear a petition challenging proposed felling of over 2,600 trees in Aarey Colony, North Mumbai, from Sept. 30, said a division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre.

Petitioner Zoru Bathena has challenged the approval granted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's Tree Authority to cut trees and make way for a Metro car shed in Aarey Colony.

On Tuesday, Bathena’s counsel Janak Dwarkadas said that BMC had on Sept. 13 issued the final permission letter to Mumbai Metro for felling or transplanting 2,646 trees. But no trees can be cut for the next 15 days, because under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, this much period has to be granted to citizens to raise objections, Dwarkadas said.

"The 15-day period gets over on Sept. 28. We would like MMRCL to make a statement that it would not start cutting trees till Sept. 30," he said.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for Mumbai Metro, said he need not make an official statement but the authority was not in a "hurry" to cut the trees.

"It is understood that they (MMRCL) will not chop the trees," Chief Justice Nandrajog then said.

According to Bathena's petition, BMC’s Tree Authority had on Aug. 29 approved Mumbai Metro’s proposal to cut 2,185 trees and uproot and replant elsewhere another 461 trees.

Environment activists are opposed to felling of trees in Aarey Colony, which together with Sanjay Gandhi National Park is known as the green lung of the metropolis.

Mumbai Metro and the BMC have argued that the metro is in larger public interest. The service will wean people away from using cars, taxis and two-wheelers and result in sharp reduction in pollution, the two agencies have said.

Mumbai Metro in its affidavit also said Aarey Colony was not a naturally forested area, as claimed by the petitioner. The delay in construction of the car shed will cause a loss of Rs 4.23 crore per day, it added.

Besides Bathena's, three more petitions have been filed on the issue. The petition filed by NGO Vanshakti seeks a direction to the government to declare Aarey Colony a forest area.

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said it would look into the question whether Aarey Colony is a forest, and if it is not, can the court issue a direction that it be declared a forest. "If we arrive at the conclusion that Aarey has to be declared as forest then all the other issues do not arise as all the environmental restrictions come in place. We will also go into the issue of whether the decision taken by the tree authority is legal," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.

The judges also stated that forest does not mean just trees and plants.

"What we common people call forest, a real environmentalist may call a jungle. Forest is like the Amazon forest where the vegetation is so rich and thick that sunlight does not reach the ground," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.

The hearing on Vanshakti's petition will continue on Wednesday.

WATCH | Residents protests against tree-felling in Aarey Colony

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