In a decision that’s being seen as a major setback for the efforts of environmentalists and activists across the country, the Bombay High Court has decided to give a go-ahead to the controversial plan of cutting of about 2,600 trees in Maharashtra’s Aarey Colony, also known as the green lungs of Mumbai, to make way for a metro carshed. On October 4, the court went on to dismiss all petitions and pleas against the felling of trees and one that wanted the colony to be declared a forest. The court has now ruled that Aarey Colony—which measures 1,287 hectares and adjoins the Sanjay Gandhi National Park — cannot be declared a forest “just because of its greenery”.
For the last few months, protests, petitions and campaigns to protect the green cover of the Aarey colony in Mumbai have escalated to a new level after the tree authority department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) permitted the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to cut 2,646 trees to construct a Metro Phase III carshed in the area, a move vehemently challenged by green activists and the civil society. The protests were also supported by various Bollywood celebrities and politicians. Citizens have been coming out in huge numbers to form human chains and conducting silent vigils outside the proposed car depot
But on October 4, the bench comprising Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre quelled four petitions by NGOs and environmental activists. While one by Mumbai-based NGO Vanshakti was fighting to get the area declared a forest, another by activist Zoru Bathena was asking for Aarey be declared a floodplain. Additionally, the bench fined Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav, who filed a plea against the BMC tree authority’s approval to cut trees, with Rs 50,000. "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 said.
The MMRCL, in the meantime, have been staunch about their decision and told the court that the project is essential to combat overcrowding in public commute in the city. “Every day, 10 persons die due to overcrowding in local suburban trains. The Metro project will ease the pressure from the trains,” MMRCL counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni had told the bench.
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