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Status quo exists, trees not being felled in Mumbai's Aarey: Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd tells SC


NEW DELHI: The status quo against the felling of trees at Mumbai's Aarey Colony, the site for a contentious metro car shed project, exists and no trees have been cut since October 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) told the Supreme Court on Friday.

The Supreme Court was hearing a plea alleging trees in the colony, the green lung of the congested metropolitan city, were being cut despite a restraining order of the top court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for MMRCL, told a bench headed by Justice U U Lalit he had made a statement before the apex court in 2019 that trees will not be cut further for the metro car shed and no trees have been felled since.

"There is a statement which I had made that there will not be any further cutting of trees and I have filed an affidavit today that thereafter there has never been any cutting of trees," Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and S R Bhat.

The apex court had in 2019 taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of a letter petition addressed to the Chief Justice of India by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on felling of trees in the colony.

The apex court had restrained authorities from cutting any more trees after Solicitor General Mehta submitted on behalf of the State of Maharashtra that no further trees will be cut.

Mehta said some bushes and weeds were there which have been cleared and some branches trimmed so vehicles could pass on an approach road in the colony.

"That trimming took place. That is what I have said on the affidavit. No tree cutting is going on," he asserted.

While taking the affidavit on record, the bench said pending further consideration no specific interim directions are called for in view of the stand taken in the affidavit filed on behalf of the corporation.

"Suffice it to say that as stated by the concerned respondent, no further trees have been cut since the order dated October 7, 2019, and shall not be cut in any manner till the next date of hearing," the bench said while posting the matter for resumed hearing on August 10.

Green activists have been up in arms against felling of trees in the colony for the metro car shed project.

In their first cabinet meeting held hours after coming to power, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis had taken the first step towards overturning the previous Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government's decision of relocating the proposed car shed project from Aarey Colony.

READ HERE | Metro car shed in Aarey threatens not just leopards, but wide range of animals, warn activists

Incidentally, Thackeray, immediately after becoming the chief minister in November 2019, had announced a stay on the construction of the proposed project and later ordered it shifted to Kanjurmarg.

During the hearing on Friday, the counsel appearing for the applicant had sought interim protection.

However, the court said no specific interim directions are called for in view of the stand taken in the affidavit filed on behalf of the MMRCL.

Mehta said inaccurate statements by public interest litigants leave a "bad taste" in the mouth.

The bench observed that there are certain advantages of having public interest litigation (PIL) and the court would deal with the facts.

During the hearing, Justice Lalit pointed out as a lawyer he had assisted the top court as an amicus curiae in the T N Godavarman Thirumulpad matter related to the conservation of forests and wondered whether there was a conflict of interest in hearing the case.

"No. I don't see any conflict of interest," Mehta responded.

The Bombay High Court had in October 2019 refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation's decision to allow the felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro car shed.