With the Bombay High Court refusing to restrain the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) from cutting trees across the city for the construction of Metro 3 on Friday, activists said they had run out of options. While hearing a plea by a Worli resident, Kunal Birwadkar, the court observed that there was no need for a stay and the MMRC should carry on with the work. “We have exhausted all our options to save the city’s trees. If only the chief minister had kept his word and insisted that the MMRC does more to save the trees. But now, it is too late,” said Nina Verma, the petitioner who had first approached the high court.
Verma, along with other activists, had approached the high court in February and managed to obtain a stay on all tree cutting activities along the Metro 3 lines.
However, three months later, the court vacated the stay on May 5, giving the petitioners 10 days to approach the Supreme Court. The matter was soon disposed of by the apex court that allowed petitioners to approach a committee of two high court judges with grievances. But before the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court could set up the committee, the metro implementing body began cutting trees.
The activists have pinned all hopes on the committee to save the remaining trees. “It should be set up by Monday. The MMRC has already cut many trees but we hope that the committee will help us save whatever is left. We just want them to ensure that only those trees are cut that are absolutely necessary,” said Zoru Bhatena, a tree activist.
While the court has posted the matter for the next hearing on June 5, Bhatena has little hope that it will yield to anything further.
Birwadkar is optimistic that the committee will address their issues. “I approached the court after I noticed that the contractors were cutting trees that had been marked for transplantation. Once the matter was before the court, they rubbed off the tree numbers making it difficult for us to know which tree was to be cut and which had to be transplanted,” he said.
“These issues could have been addressed by the committee if it had been set up. Hopefully, they will take action to
save the remaining trees,” he added.
However, the activists fear that the MMRC will cut most of the trees even before the committee is set up to avoid further trouble. “If you look at the way they are cutting trees at Churchgate, there seems to be no plan. The only agenda seems to be to hack as many trees as possible so that the need to save trees doesn’t arise at all. They are out with a vengeance now,” says Ashwin Nagpal, a Churchgate resident.
In a public appeal published in the newspapers on Saturday, the MMRC has sought public co-operation for the project and stated that the stay has been vacated by the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court after satisfying themselves that the metro implementing body has all the needed permissions to cut the trees. They have further stated that they would be transplanting 1,727 trees and cutting 1,074 trees.
To compensate, they will be planting 3,222 trees and after completing the construction, they will plant more trees on the same sites from where they were chopped off. All trees will be maintained for a period of three years. However, these figures do not include trees to be cut in Aarey Colony for construction of the car depot.
Owing to the public demand to save the trees, the MMRC had decided to rework the design of the car depot saving 5 hectare area. It is yet to complete the survey to find out how many trees will be lost in the remaining 25 hectare. The MMRC was unavailable for comment.