Supreme Court constitutes special bench to hear Aarey forest case on October 7

The SC has decided to register the letter as a public interest litigation./ File photo  

The Supreme Court will on Monday hear a plea against felling of 2,646 trees at the Aarey colony by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to make way for a Metro car shed.

On Sunday, the top court received a letter from a delegation of law students against the axing of trees in the Aarey forest. The top court decided to pursue it as a public interest litigation (PIL) and constituted a “special bench” to hear the case.

The MMRCL began axing the trees from Friday night, hours after the Bombay High Court had rejected a bunch of petitions by NGOs and activists against the felling of trees in the prime green area of the city.

Following protests, the Mumbai police have imposed Section 144 in and around Aarey and also arrested around 29 green activists.

The law students, in their letter, had appealed for urgent hearing by the top court which is on the Dasara holidays for a week, contending that “part of Aarey will be cleared with all trees axed leading to irrevocable loss”.

“As we write this letter to you the Mumbai authorities continue to kill the lungs of Mumbai i.e. Aarey forest by clearing trees near the Mithi Bank river and according to news reports 1,500 trees have already been cleared by the authorities,” the letter said.

“Not only this but our friends are put in jail who were peacefully organising a vigil against the acts of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) at the site,” it added.

Bail granted to activists

The 29 activists were on Sunday granted bail by a holiday court.

The protesters, which include college students in their twenties, women and a 45-year-old man, stand accused of assaulting on duty police personnel who were enforcing bandboast at the Aarey colony, when the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) decided to start cutting down trees in the middle of the night. They were charged with unlawful assembly and assault to deter a public servant from discharging their duty under the Indian Penal Code. They were remanded in judicial custody for a period of 14 days.

Advocate Aditya Bambulkar, who appeared on behalf of the protesters, said, “We filed a bail application before the holiday court in Dindoshi seeking bail for all of them. Bail was granted on a cash bond of ₹7,000 each, and some conditions have also been imposed.”

The order, issued by Additional Sessions Judge HC Shende, takes into account an earlier order passed by the Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in Borivali, allowing some protesters, who are students, to appear for their exams which begin on Monday and says there is “no need for their detention in jail”.

The order also says the protesters need to visit the Aarey police station once in every 15 days between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and cooperate with the police in their inquiries into the case.

The news of the bail came while relatives of those arrested were holding a press conference on Sunday afternoon. The news was met with loud cheers from the room. 

Vidya Poddar, whose son Divyang had also been arrested,said: “I just got to know that bail has been granted. I want to complete the process soon so that he can come home. Fortunately, two of his friends are with him.”

Amrita Bhattacharjee of the Aarey Conservation Group said, “In some cases, tribals’ families or students may not have the money to post bail. We will pay the sum for them. This fight will not stop. We will continue to oppose concretisation of Aarey land, since it will lead to large scale flooding in nearby areas. Besides, we will closely monitor transplantation of trees.”

Stalin Dayanand of Vanshakti said, “According to rules, a tree officer is supposed to be present at the time of cutting. That rule was not followed. Whatever pictures of plantation the MMRCL has tweeted today, we will go and inspect them. There is another case in NGT filed by Vanshakti, which was coming for a final hearing on October 10. That is why the MMRCL was in such a tearing hurry.” (With input from Mumbai Special Correspondent)

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 2:31:23 AM |

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