The Supreme Court Monday ordered the status quo on the felling of trees in Aarey forests in Mumbai for the construction of a Metro Rail car shed.
A special bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said that the top court’s Forest Bench will hear the matter in detail on October 21 to ascertain if it fell in the eco-sensitive zone and ordered status quo with respect to the cutting of trees till then.
The court ordered the status quo after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra and Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) submitted that there will be no further cutting. Mehta said the court could record his statement that “whatever has to be cut is cut” and “nothing further is to be cut”. He added that the court would go into the legality of the tree cutting whenever it hears it in detail.
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“Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General appearing for the State of Maharashtra has stated that they are not going to cut any further trees till the next date of hearing. In the circumstances, the statement is quite fair”, the bench recorded in its order.
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The felling of trees at the Aarey forests began amid protests on the night of October 4 after the Bombay High Court earlier that day dismissed a petition challenging the corporation’s decision to allow felling of 2,185 trees and transplantation of 460 trees for the project.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan who had also approached the top court against the Bombay HC order cited a document – Management Plan for Sanjay Gandhi National Park – and said the entire Aarey land had been termed “unclassed forest” in it.
This was contested by the Solicitor General.
The bench also enquired with Mehta whether all those arrested in connection with the protests over the tree cutting had been released. Thc SG replied in the affirmative. The court, however, added that if anyone has not been released so far, “he/she be released immediately on furnishing personal bond”.
Let the statement made be carried out in pith and substance.
During the arguments, Mehta told the bench that the “project proponent (MMRCl) had planted 20,900 trees in various parts as part of its green initiative. But the court said “planting them is one thing, how they are looked after is another” and said it wanted to know “what is the condition of these samplings now”.
Mehta replied that they are all GPS-tagged and the “survival rate is 95 percent”. “We don’t know”, added Justice Mishra seeking details of the same.