The 29 people who were arrested for protesting the felling of trees by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd in Aarey Milk Colony have demanded that the cases registered against them should be dropped.
They were charged under Sections 353 and 332, relating to obstructing public officials from discharging their duties.
The protesters alleged that it was the police that assaulted them, and not the other way around, and criticised the Mumbai Police FIR treating environment lovers like “hardcore criminals”.
Rishav Ranjan, a law student based in Greater Noida, whose letter to the Chief Justice of India to stay the tree cutting at Aarey was taken up suo motu by the Supreme Court, was also present and said that he would petition the Supreme Court for the quashing of the FIR and cases against the 29 people who were arrested last Friday. “In my case, we will mention before the Supreme Court to quash the FIR against the citizens. They were taking part in a peaceful protest and it was for saving trees. But they were charged with non-bailable offences and treated like criminals,” he said.
Ranjan also said that following the SC order of status quo on tree felling in Aarey Colony, he had written a letter to MMRCL to stop all other activities like construction work. “Since there is a case in the Supreme Court, MMRCL should stop all constructions. Later, if the SC declares Aarey as a forest then will MMRCL demolish all the structures? They should wait for the final verdict of SC. If MMRCL does not stop then I will try to move another petition to stop the project,” said Ranjan.
He was speaking in the press conference along with other protesters at Mumbai Press Club in CSMT on Thursday. “Police arrested me just for standing there and silently protesting against tree-felling. The authorities should apologise to us and immediately quash the FIR,” said 23-year-old Kapil Agarwal, a student at Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) and associated with the ‘Save Aarey’ movement for years.
Shruti Nair, a designer, who was also arrested, said policemen beat women protestors at the police station. “I have scratches on my face. A male cop manhandled us. Inside Aarey police station senior police officials assaulted women protesters. There should be action against them. We were treated like hardcore criminals. I had complained (on social media) to the chief minister but nothing happened,” she said.
Some of the protesters alleged that they were arrested while they were returning home peacefully after the protest. Manan Desa said, “It was peaceful and suddenly police started detaining us when I was returning. What is more disturbing to see is that on social media, we have been labeled as anti-development elements, or agents of Christian missionaries.”