Aarey Forest: SC Pulls Up Mumbai Metro for Trying to Overreach Court’s Jurisdiction, Imposes Rs 10 Lakh Fine

The Supreme Court on Monday came down heavily on Mumbai Metro for trying to overreach its earlier order that permitted felling of only 84 trees in Aarey forest for a car shed project and directed it to pay Rs 10 lakh as penalty.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala said it was improper on Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) part to move the tree authority for felling of any trees in excess of 84.

The top court, however, permitted the company to remove 177 trees from Aarey forest, saying a stay on tree felling would lead to the public project being brought to a standstill which is not desirable.

“We are constrained to observe that MMRCL has made an attempt to overreach this court… It was improper on part of MMRCL to move tree authority to fell any trees in excess of 84. Instead, the correct course of action would have been to move this court. It would be necessary for us to penalise MMRCL for its conduct.

“MMRCL within a period of two weeks should provide an amount of 10 lakh to the conservator of forests. The conservator shall ensure that all afforestation which has been directed is completed,” the bench said.

“We request the director of IIT Bombay to depute a team for the purpose of verifying compliance. A report should be submitted to this court in three weeks,” it added.

The apex court had in 2019 taken suo motu cognisance of a letter petition addressed to the Chief Justice of India by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on the felling of trees in the colony.

On November 29 last year, the apex court had permitted Mumbai Metro to raise with the relevant authority its plea for felling 84 trees at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Mumbai Metro, submitted that there is lacuna but there was no attempt to overreach this court.

“It is a lacuna but it was bonafide. The intention was not to overreach,” Mehta said.

The apex court took strong exception to the fact that superintendent of gardens and trees office had granted permission to cut 177 trees in violation of the top court’s order.

“How can you move for felling any more trees in excess of 84 trees? You’re in contempt of our order. You cannot take this court for a ride. You cannot overreach the court. Officer of MMRCL should also be sent to jail,” Chandrachud observed.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan, appearing for the petitioners, said a complete fraud had been played on the court and MMRCL had renumbered trees which did not fall in the project to wrongfully cut them.

On August 24 last year, the top court had directed the MMRCL to strictly abide by its undertaking that no trees will be cut there and warned that any violation would result in strict action.

The apex court had restrained the authorities from felling any more trees after the solicitor general submitted on behalf of the State of Maharashtra that no further trees will be cut.

The felling of trees in the colony has been opposed by green activists and residents.

In their first cabinet meeting held hours after coming to power, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis had taken the first step towards overturning the previous Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government’s decision of relocating the proposed car shed project from Aarey Colony.

Incidentally, Thackeray, immediately after becoming the chief minister in November 2019, had announced a stay on the construction of the proposed project and later ordered it be shifted to Kanjurmarg.

The Bombay High Court in October 2019 refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation’s decision to allow felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up the metro car shed.

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