Mumbai

Aarey erupts as trees axed after Bombay HC dismisses pleas

Night drama: Protesters inspect the axed trees in Aarey Colony on Friday.   | Photo Credit: vijay Bate

The Bombay High Court on Friday paved the way for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to construct a car shed for Mumbai Metro 3 by upholding the approval given by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority to cut 2,646 trees at the Aarey Milk Colony, despite widespread protests.

 

Hours after the HC order, trees inside the car depot were cut, triggering fresh protests. The drama continued late into the night, with police rounding up over 150 protesters and taking them to various police stations.

The police resorted to lathi charge to evict protesters and also brought in jammers to block cell phone networks for a short while. Traffic on Aarey Road towards Western Highway Express was blocked.

Earlier, videos of the tree-cutting began circulating on social media and nearly 50 residents stormed through the gates to the spot of the cut trees around 9 p.m. They were evicted after 20 minutes. Mangesh Maske, a local resident, said, “We saw the lights inside the forest compound and climbed on a nearby roof to see what was happening. We saw trees were being cut so we pelted stones at them. We asked for the permission letter but were asked to leave. We called our friends and shared it on social media.”

Soon, a massive crowd of Save Aarey activists gathered outside the gates. Tempers were running high, with the protesters hitting the walls of the Metro site. The walls gave way at 10 p.m. and a crowd of nearly 200-strong storming back to the site shouting slogans. The police evicted everyone again. Protests continued on Aarey Road.

An activist said, “We saw around 50-60 trees were cut with cutting machines.”

A resident of Aarey colony alleged that he saw the trees falling when he was returning from work between 9.15 and 9.30 p.m. He said, “My son is inside the forest and police have detained the protesters illegitimately.”

A distraught protester holds on to a cut tree.

A distraught protester holds on to a cut tree.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate

MMRCL chief Ashwin Bhide, meanwhile, posted the Tree Authority permission and cited the HC order on her Twitter page.

Earlier in the day, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre dismissed four petitions related to Aarey filed by NGOs and environmental activists. The Bench, terming all the petitioners as “Davids” taking on the industrial “Goliaths. The Bench said, “The Greens fail in the instant petition because they have lost touch with the procedure to be followed as per law.”

 

Two of the petitions, filed by NGO Vanshakti, sought to declare 1,280 hectares in Aarey as ‘reserved forest’ under the Indian Forest Act and directions to the State to issue a formal notification to that effect under the Act, and to protect the floodplain of the Mithi river at Aarey where construction is prohibited. When the Mithi river overflows the low-lying area in the Aarey Milk Colony acts as a flood plain and when the river flow is less, the water which accumulates in the depressions feeds the river.

One of the pleas, filed by local resident Zoru Bhathena, challenged the Tree Authority resolution to fell the trees for the Metro car shed. The Bench it, stating that MMRCL had scaled down the project with respect to the number of trees to be cut and that in itself was proof of the decision being fair, transparent and based on reason.

The HC also imposed a fine of ₹50,000 on Shiv Sena corporator and Tree Authority member Yashwant Jadhav, who filed the fourth plea. The Bench said, “The petition filed by Mr Jadhav is sheer voyeurism and it is sans any material particulars and bereft of concise statement of material facts concerning the meeting of the Tree Authority.”

The Bench said, “Davids (environmentalists) take on industrial Goliath’s. Relationship with nature and love for environment alone is true and all other relationships are unreal and temporary, is their belief. Their hearts are a temple of devotion to flora and fauna. In the instant case, the Davids row their boat with faith, courage and devotion in the storm of development; but directionless. The Greens fail in the instant petition because they have lost touch with the procedure to be followed as per law.”

Aarey erupts as trees axed after Bombay HC dismisses pleas

Dismissing the petitions, the Bench said, “Regretfully, the State has not formulated any policy laying down the parameters to determine either the extent of land or treat coverage therein for qualifying the land as a forest.”

The Bench concluded by saying, “We do not make any comments thereon for the reason the petitioners have to now swim or sink before the Supreme Court with respect to the Special Leave Petition filed by them and the proceedings before the National Green Tribunal.”

Bhide defends move, Aaditya hits out

As news of the trees being cut made the rounds, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray took to Twitter to criticise Mumbai Metro 3. Mr. Thackeray tweeted, “The vigour with which the @MumbaiMetro3 is slyly and swiftly cutting down an ecosystem in Aarey is shameful and disgusting. How about posting these officials in PoK, giving them charge to destroy terror camps rather than trees? (sic)”

“Many environmentalists and even many local Shiv Sena members from the vicinity have tried stopping this,” the Sena leader said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Bhide defended the felling of trees, and tweeted, “Hon. Bombay HC has dismissed all petitions in unequivocally clear terms 2de. But sm people consider themselves superior 2 Judiciery as well. While their own actions r illegal they city foul. If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to street. (sic)”

(With inputs from Dhairya Gajara)

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 6:28:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/aarey-issue-bombay-high-court-dismisses-all-pleas-against-felling-of-over-2500-trees/article29593285.ece

Next Story