Even as north Mumbai’s prominent green lung, Aarey Colony, witnessed vociferous protests from environmental activists, the Bombay High Court on Saturday dismissed a fresh application seeking a stay on cutting of trees to make way for a metro car shed.
Protests broke out late Friday night after Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) started cutting trees following the Bombay High Court quashing a petition challenging the decision of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority to allow felling of 2,185 trees, and transportation of 460, on a 33-hectare land at Aarey for the construction of a MetroLine 3 rake depot.
Earlier in the day, a bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and A K Menon disposed of the fresh plea filed by activists who were seeking the stay so that they can move the Supreme Court.
Eventually, Section 144 had to be imposed in the area to limit the flow of protesters. Nearly 29 of them were arrested and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days for allegedly assaulting public servants and forming an unlawful assembly. Several others were detained which included three Shiv Sena leaders, including Priyanka Chaturvedi and four other party workers.
High Court dismisses plea; NGT to hear matter on Oct 10
On Friday, the Bombay High Court had rejected the petition, which was filed by activist Zoru Bhathena as well as a city-based NGO Vanashakti to declare Aarey a forest. A bench comprising Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and environment activists related to Aarey Colony. “The issue is pending before the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal. Hence, we are dismissing the petition on the principle of commonality and not on merits,” the court was quoted as saying by PTI.
The bench further imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav — a member of the tree authority of BMC — who had filed a plea against the approval granted by the BMC’s tree authority, PTI reported.
Centre backs High Court order, calls for ‘development with environment protection’
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar Saturday said that the cutting of trees for the Mumbai Metro was similar to what was done in Delhi for the construction of the metro, and added that the government will plant double the trees than felled.
Addressing a press conference in Lucknow, Javadekar said, “Today, Delhi Metro is the world’s best metro. But how did it develop? We had to cut at least 20-25 trees for one metro station. People protested then too, in the same way they are protesting now. Later, we had planted five trees in place of one. And now, in 15-17 years, they have grown. We successfully constructed 271 stations, too. In this way, Delhi’s forest cover also grew and public transport service was provided to the 30 lakh Delhiites. This is how our ministry works. We work on development along with taking care of our environment.”
What MMRCL said
Immediately after protests began at Aarey, MMRCL chief Ashwini Bhide defending the felling of trees, said that action was taken only after the Bombay High Court quashed the four petitions and fined them for being frivolous.
#MMRC has planted 24000 trees & committed to plant more. Join us to #PlantATree while we build @MumbaiMetro3 to provide you with safer, faster & comfortable commute that will reduce #Pollution and #TrafficCongestion. Let us #MakeMumbaiGreen @mybmc @CMOMaharashtra @anandmahindra pic.twitter.com/Yogkaih1j8
— Ashwini Bhide (@AshwiniBhide) September 20, 2019
“Honourable Bombay HC has dismissed all petitions in unequivocally clear terms today. But some people consider themselves superior to the judiciary as well. While their own actions are illegal, they cry foul. If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to the street,” she wrote on Twitter yesterday. In a tweet today, backing up her earlier stance, she said that MMRC had planted 24,000 trees which had been geotagged and are being well maintained.
The political furore over Aarey
Sena, which seemed miffed with BJP over the Aarey protests, warned the saffron party without naming them that they would “deal with murderers of trees”. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s word of caution came a day after the combine announced their seat-sharing pact during a joint presser yesterday.
ALSO, READ | Mumbai’s Aarey protests: Everything you need to know
“Aarey is the most important issue for me right now. Whatever is happening today, whatever was happening yesterday and whatever will happen in future, I’ll take detailed and in-depth information of what the situation is and will speak firmly and directly on the issue,” Uddhav was quoted as saying by ANI. Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray also tweeted in support of the protesters and urged Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to look into the matter.
Meanwhile, Congress’ Sanjay Nirupam who visited Aarey Colony to express solidarity with the agitators, slammed Shiv Sena for its ‘double standards’ and said, “Such double standard would not do.” He was referring to Sena condemning tree felling and still continuing to support the BJP-led government. Former Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora also condemned the move and said, felling of trees was a “major setback” for Mumbai.