In the battle to save Aarey Colony, this round has gone to the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation. The Bombay high court on Friday cleared the building of its depot on the 33-hectare jungle which, along with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, forms the green lung of Mumbai city.
This, despite proximity to solutions — in the form of unlitigated land in Kanjurmarg.
Despite the havoc wreaked by the flooded Mithi months prior, a division bench, led by Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, dismissed a petition filed by an environmentalist seeking it to be declared a floodplain. It also dismissed a non-profit’s plea to declare it a forest on the basis of the apex court’s 1996 landmark T.N. Godavarman judgment — not on merits but on procedural grounds. The petitioners will now have to “swim or sink before the Supreme Court with respect to the Special Leave Petition filed by them and proceedings before the National Green Tribunal”.
With wildfires raging and El Nino and La Nina expanding in intensity year by year, climate change is upon us. Aside from being a signatory to the 2019 Paris agreement to fight back, India is identified as one of the eight major countries in the world with large climate mitigation potential. Deforestation accounts for 4.3-5.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents a year. Reforestation, on the other hand, presents an opportunity to reverse the change.
The situation simply cannot “be resolved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions”, as a young, autistic girl in pigtails recently said. In the light of this knowledge and reality, should not the court, overburdened as it is with case pendency, have taken a stand? Instead, it imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav, who had filed a plea against the approval granted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority to chop trees.
Significantly, despite the usual 15-day buffer post-approval, authorities began tree felling soon after the verdict. What is the purpose of this act, if not to browbeat civil society into acceptance and present the courts with a fait accompli? The jury is out on this count.