Tue, 09 Aug 2022

New Delhi [India], August 5 (ANI): The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (MMRCL) on Friday told the Supreme Court that no cutting of trees in the Aarey forest area in Mumbai has been undertaken since 2019, adding that only weeds and bushes were removed by the authorities.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for MMRCL, told a bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Aniruddha Bose that there were weeds and bushes, and branches of trees which have grown in the area, and the authorities have only removed those.

The bench took into the record the statement made by Solicitor General and posted the case filed against the cutting of trees for a hearing on August 10.

"Only weeds and bushes on the ground were cleared. There is an approaching road, there were branches that required trimming for vehicles to pass through. No trees were cut. They have shown photographs of some other areas," said the Solicitor General.

The top court was hearing a plea seeking direction to stop the construction of a metro car shed under the project of MMRCL in the Aarey forest area.

Senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the tree cutting has resumed in the Aarey region for the metro car shed project, despite the status quo orders of the top court in 2019.

The plea alleged that the authorities have started cutting trees again despite there being a stay order of the court.

In 2019, the Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to stop cutting trees in the Aarey forest area and directed it to maintain the status quo.

Filing the fresh application, the petitioner NGO Vanashakti sought direction that two matters pending before the NGT, Pune and Bombay High Court be decided expeditiously.

It said that matter before the NGT was related to challenging the notification of December 5, 2016, of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) excluding a certain plot of lands admeasuring 165 hectares from the Ecological Sensitive Zone and the Bombay High Court is seized of a petition seeking a declaration that the entire lands of the Aarey Milk Colony are forest lands.

"Since the restoration of the forests of Aarey Milk Colony is not possible once the trees are cut and the flood plains of the Mithi river covered over with concrete, the more prudent approach would be to order the immediate final hearing cases pending before the Bombay High Court and the NGT, Pune, and, in the interim, order all construction work in the Aarey Milk Colony to temporarily stopped," it said.

The petitioner said, "it has set out photographs including satellite images and google maps showing the lush forest cover as it exists today and also the photographs showing the massive construction work that is going on at full speed and with hundreds of trees already cut".

The top court in its 2019 order had stayed cutting of trees in the Aarey first area while hearing a suo moto PIL based on a letter written by a group of law students to the court against the felling of trees.

In October 2019, MMRCL started axing the trees after the Bombay High Court rejected a bunch of petitions filed by NGOs and activists against the tree felling. Resolved to save the trees, many protestors gathered at the site to raise their voice against the felling of trees. Later, more people joined the protestors near the Aarey colony area, where the Mumbai Police imposed Section 144, thereby banning unlawful assembly.

The protesters had been demanding the relocation of the bus depot, which is a part of the Metro III project. (ANI)

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