Supreme Court slams Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, slaps a fine of ₹10 lakh

Bench says MMRCL made an attempt to overreach the court jurisdiction on felling of trees at Aarey Colony for Metro 3 car shed

April 17, 2023 02:43 pm | Updated 10:44 pm IST - New Delhi

Metro 3 car shed construction underway in Aarey forest in Mumbai, on July 27, 2022.

Metro 3 car shed construction underway in Aarey forest in Mumbai, on July 27, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on April 17 slammed the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) for “taking the court for a ride” and imposed a fine of ₹10 lakh on it.

Initially threatening contempt action, a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud finally “penalised” the MMRCL for seeking permission from the Tree Authority to fell/transplant a total of 177 trees at Aarey Colony for Metro 3 car shed project when the apex court had specifically given it permission to only cut 84 trees for the construction of a ramp.

“The MMRCL made an attempt to overreach the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court,” the Bench, also comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, observed in the order

The court said it was “improper” on the part of the MMRCL to approach the Tree Authority when it knew that the only possible course of action was to move the apex court for permission to cut the enhanced number of trees.

“It is necessary to penalise the MMRCL for its conduct,” the court observed.

The court ordered the MMRCL to pay the money over to the Chief Conservator of Forests in the next two weeks.

The court, however, did not stand in the way of the MMRCL’s need to fell 124 trees and transplant 53 trees for the public project. The Bench noted that so far 2,000 trees had been felled and there was no point in forcing a public project to come to a “standstill”.

Instead, the court asked the Chief Conservator of Forests to ensure the compliance of directions given to the MMRCL by the Tree Authority for afforestation in the project area and file a report with the apex court.

The court has also asked the Director, IIT Bombay, to keep a watch on the transplantation of the trees.

On March 15, the Bombay High Court had held that “propriety” required the MMRCL to approach the Supreme Court before felling or transplanting 177 trees, much in excess to the permitted 84 trees.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday noted that the MMRCL had chosen to “overreach” despite the court modifying its own status quo order on November 29 last year to allow the company to approach the Tree Authority to fell the 84 trees for the ramp.

Public investment

“In such projects involving large outlay of public funds, the court cannot be oblivious to the serious dislocation which will be caused if the public investment which has gone into the project were to be disregarded… Undoubtedly, considerations pertaining to the environment are of concern because all development must, it is well-settled, be sustainable,” the court had reasoned on November 29, 2022.

The felling of trees is opposed by green activists and local residents. The case is based on a letter written by law student Rishav Ranjan in 2019 to the Chief Justice of India about the cutting of over 2,600 trees in the Aarey.

The letter said Aarey forest was an unclassified forest and the felling of trees, robbing Mumbai of its green lungs, was illegal.

The Bombay High Court had, on October 4, 2019, refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash a Mumbai Municipal decision to permit the cutting of the trees for the metro car shed.

The Aarey forest is located adjacent to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is home to five lakh trees and hosts a rich biodiversity.

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