07, Oct 2019 | CJP Team
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered that no more trees be cut in Mumbai’s Aarey forest until October 21, when it would hear a plea against the government’s decision to clear the area for a metro car shed. The court, in its directions, also asked all activists who have been detained for protesting the government’s action to be released.
A special bench of the Supreme Court was constituted to hear an urgent plea on the Aarey matter. A notice to this effect came up on the court’s website at around 8 PM the previous night. The notice read:
A special bench has been constituted to hear the matter tomorrow, ie October 7, at 10 AM, on the basis of a letter dated October 6, 2019 addressed by Rishav Ranjan with regard to the felling of trees in Aarey forest, state of Maharashtra which has been registered as a public interest litigation.”
The notice did not indicate which bench will be hearing the matter.
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According to LiveLaw, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra government, undertook that no further trees will be cut. A Supreme Court special vacation bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said the legality of trees that have already been felled can be decided by the environment bench after the Dusshera vacation.
NDTV reported that the Maharashtra government said that no more trees need to be cut in Aarey as “those that needed to be removed have been cut”. The bench was constituted after a group of law students wrote to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Sunday asking the court to intervene and stop the trees from being cut. The students said they were forced to approach the Supreme Court because the Bombay high court rejected an application moved by environmentalists seeking a stay on the cutting of trees until the matter is head before the Supreme Court.
Law students Rishav Ranjan and others were represented by senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Shankaranarayanan. They argued that the issue whether Aarey is a forest or not is pending in the Supreme Court. Interestingly the state government was quick to axe the trees after the Bombay High Court dismissed the petition, even when the National Green Tribunal is still considering whether the area is an eco-sensitive zone and therefore, the authorities should have refrained from cutting down trees until a decision was taken, they said.
Aarey is not only considered the “green lung” of the city as it is one of the few areas that have dense forest cover but the #SaveAarey movement has captured the imagination of activists and citizens alike. There are also 27 Adivasi padas within Aarey.. Both the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and the BJP-run state government have maintained that Aarey is not a forest area and hence the trees can be axed.
After the Bombay high court on Friday refused to declare the Aarey Colony a forest area, it also declined to quash a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) decision allowing the felling of over 2,700 trees in the suburban green zone for a metro car shed. However, the court’s Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog had orally observed that he hoped authorities will not start cutting the trees before the petitioners moved the Supreme Court, according to reports.
In 24 hours since 9 PM on Friday, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cut as many as 2,134 trees in Aarey Milk Colony. On Saturday, the Mumbai Police arrested 29 people and imposed prohibitory orders in and around Aarey Colony, where protesters camped for 24 hours to prevent the felling of trees. In what is being seen as a callous and hasty move, equipment to brutally axe trees were quietly brought in to the Aarey area even while the Bombay High Court was in session on Friday and the petitions were actually rejected.
The Shiv Sena, which runs the BMC and is a partner in the state government, has vehemently protested the decision to cut the trees. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well as other opposition parties have also voiced their support for the protests. Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchir Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) staged a huge protest on Sunday and was detained.