New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government not to cut any more trees in Aarey Milk Colony area of Mumbai. But its order came amid an admission by the Maharashtra government that whatever was required to be cut has already been done.
Aarey Colony is a contiguous part of the larger Sanjay Gandhi National Park and a part of it is being cleared by cutting 2,646 tress to create space for the construction of Mumbai metro rail shed.
“As undertaken, status quo be maintained till the next date of hearing with respect to cutting of trees”, a special bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Ashok Bhushan ordered. While passing the order, the bench took on record a statement by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra government and the Mumbai civic body, who said, “Whatever was to be cut has been cut,” and added that “there will no more cutting of trees.” Since Friday, 2,141 trees have been cut.
The court also ordered the release, forthwith, of those arrested for protesting against the cutting of the trees.
Mr Mehta told the court that he had spoken with the Mumbai police commissioner and was informed that all those arrested for protesting against the cutting of trees have been released.
The order for status quo was given by the two-judge bench specially constituted after the apex court took suo motu (on its own) cognisance of a letter petition addressed to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on felling of trees in the colony. The apex court is on a week-long Dussehra break from Tuesday.
The letter was received by the CJI’s office on Sunday and later in the evening it was directed to be listed for an urgent hearing.
The court on Monday permitted the students to file a formal petition relating to the issue.
Mr Mehta sought to defend the cutting of trees by saying that the entire area under forest cover is more than 3,000 acres and the area that is being cleared of tress is less than two per cent. But an unimpressed Justice Bhushan said, “Whether it is 1 per cent or 2 per cent is not relevant. The question is whether it can be done legally or not”.
At the next hearing, set for October 21, the court is likely to examine the legality of cutting of trees. The bench ordered status quo even as solicitor general Mehta repeatedly urged the court to record his statement that there would be no further cutting of tress but not pass status quo order.
Apparently displeased with Mr Mehta hammering against the status quo order, Justice Misha said, “You can’t dictate… you are making it very light.”
Informing the court that the loss of trees would be made good by planting as many trees, Mr Mehta said that Mumbai Metro has already planted 2,900 trees. This was in pursuance to our order two years ago, Justice Mishra pointed out and sought a report on “how many of them are surviving today.” “Submit the report,” Justice Mishra said in response to Mr Mehta’s statement that the survival rate is 95 per cent.