No more trees need to be cut at Mumbai’s Aarey forest and those that had to be removed were already cut, the Maharashtra government told the Supreme Court on Monday.
The court asked the government to maintain status quo at the site until October 21, when the case will be taken up by the Forest Bench. There will be no more tree-cutting and no construction activity at Aarey until the next hearing the court said.
The Supreme Court took up the case despite Dussehra holidays after a group of law students wrote to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asking him to urgently stop the cutting of trees at Aarey Colony for a metro car-shed.
Though the court ordered status quo, which would mean no activity, a Maharashtra government lawyer said there was no bar on construction in the patch already cleared. “There is no status quo on construction on the 33 hectares of Aarey land that has been cleared,” said Nishant Katneshwarkar.
Last week on Friday, Bombay High Court sanctioned removal of trees after dismissing petitions against cutting of over 2,600 trees for the Metro project. Not even 12 hours after the order, authorities started clearing the forests. This triggered a huge protests forcing police to declare curfew and arrest protesting citizens.
The students’ letter to the Chief Justice, which was treated as a petition by the court, said Aarey forest was deemed an “unclassified forest” by the state government and the cutting of trees was illegal.
During the arguments, one of the two judges, Justice Arun Mishra, questioned: “Tell us how many saplings you planted. How have they grown? What’s the status of your forests?”
He was responding to the Maharashtra government’s statement that over 20,000 trees had been planted to make up for the loss of Aarey’s trees.
“All of us would have been concerned with the environment but see that 20,900 trees have also been planted,” said Tushar Mehta.
Justice Mishra countered: “That was two years ago. Saplings have been planted but how many survived is the question, how many bloomed is the question.”
The Solicitor General said the survival rate is 95 per cent. “No further trees will be cut. The environment bench could take up the matter after vacation to decide legality of trees that have been felled,” he said.
The court also asked whether all activists arrested during the protests on the weekend had been released. On Sunday, 29 activists were released on bail.
Aarey Colony, a green belt and often called “lungs of Mumbai”. It has over 5 lakh trees along with neighbouring Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Source : Various