Don't cut more trees, SC tells Maha govt on Aarey row

A woman reacts as she touches a tree after it was cut down in the Aarey Colony suburb of Mumbai. (Reuters photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government not to cut any more trees in Aarey area of Mumbai, for construction of Metro car shed. 

It directed for "maintaining status quo in respect of cutting of trees", meaning thereby the authorities can remove the woods and can go ahead with construction activities as all the trees required to be cut has already been felled.

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The issue has caused huge heart burns among the environment activists and several of them were arrested for launching protest against cutting of over 2200 trees in Aarey, considered as green lung for Mumbai.

On Monday, a special bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan also directed for release of activists, if they were still under detention or arrest, for protesting against felling of trees.

The top court ordered "status quo with respect to cutting of trees" and put the matter before the forest bench on October 21.

It noted that as per the management plan of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, some areas of Aarey colony was transferred to revenue land from unclassified forest.

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"We will examine the matter," the bench said, seeking information about the number of saplings planted by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and as to how many survived.

Taking up a Suo Motu petition registered on a letter by law student, the bench directed for maintaining status quo, even as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for state government, undertook that they were not going to cut any more trees.

Mehta said that there was a fait accompli as whatever was to be cut has already been cut.

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Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing the law student, Rishav Ranjan, submitted the Bombay High Court had passed its judgement, saying that the issue whether Aarey was a forest area or not, was pending before the top court.

He maintained, Aarey, which is in Goregaon, near to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, should be treated as forest area as per the directions issued in the T N Godhavarman's case.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan contended the issue was whether it was forest area or eco sensitive zone.

Advocate J P Dhanda contended his writ petition was pending before the court.

The court asked the counsel to show a notification that it is a forest area or eco sensitive zone.

After going through case files, the bench said it is no-development zone, not eco-sensitive zone, though some parts of Aarey were said to be part of unclassified forest.

Solicitor General Mehta said he had to take instructions if Aarey was part of eco-sensitive zone or unclassified forest area.

The apex court on Sunday registered a PIL on a plea by a group of law students seeking mandamus for stay on cutting of trees by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, for Metro train shed.

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