The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Mumbai civic body to clarify how it has issued a public notice seeking to cut 177 trees at the Aarey Colony area for a Metro car shed project when the Supreme Court in 2022 permitted felling of only 84 trees.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice Sandeep Marne was hearing a public interest litigation filed by activist Zoru Bhathena challenging the notice issued by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The Metro car shed project at Aarey Colony in suburban Goregaon has been embroiled in controversy with environmentalists holding protests against indiscriminate felling of trees in the area which they claim is a forest area.
The civic body issued the notice on January 12 following an application filed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) seeking permission to remove 177 trees for the Metro car shed project.
In the PIL, Bhathena claimed the notice was in violation of the Supreme Court’s November 2022 order, which only allowed for the removal of 84 trees.
On Monday, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the BMC, told the high court that the 177 trees include 84 trees mentioned by the SC.
“The remaining are mostly shrubs and some wild trees that have grown after 2019 (when the MMRCL filed its first application seeking to fell 84 trees),” Chinoy said.
Bhathena’s lawyer Zamaan Ali, however, opposed this and said these trees have been assigned ID numbers and hence cannot be termed as shrubs or wild trees.
The bench then pointed out to Chinoy that the public notice mentions 177 trees and not shrubs.
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“Where do we get that these are shrubs? Also the SC order is of November 2022. This order deals with only 84 trees. At that time why was it not brought to the notice of the apex court that there are more than 84 trees that need to be removed? The question would be whether these are shrubs or trees,” ACJ Gangapurwala said.
The court directed the BMC to file an affidavit in response to the petition by February 16.
Ali then sought the court to restrain the BMC and MMRCL from taking any action at the site.
Chinoy assured the court that pending hearing of the petition nothing would be done.
The SC had in November 2022 permitted the MMRCL to approach the BMC’s tree authority to cut 84 trees at the Aarey Colony for construction of the car shed.
The order was passed in a bunch of petitions filed by law students and environmentalists against the proposed felling of trees.
Notably, the previous Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in 2019 said the Metro car shed would be constructed at suburban Kanjurmarg and not Aarey Colony.
In June 2022, the Eknath Shinde-led state government reversed the decision and said the car shed will be constructed in the Aarey Colony only.