The Supreme Court on Monday ordered that no more trees be cut in Mumbai’s Aarey forest until October 21, when it would hear a plea against the government’s decision to clear the area for a metro car shed. The court also asked all activists and environmentalists who have been detained for protesting the government’s action to be released.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra government, undertook that no further trees will be cut. A Supreme Court special vacation bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said the legality of trees that have already been felled can be decided by the environment bench after the Dusshera vacation, LiveLaw reported.
The bench was constituted after a group of law students wrote to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Sunday asking the court to intervene and stop the trees from being cut. The students said they were forced to approach the Supreme Court because the Bombay high court rejected an application moved by environmentalists seeking a stay on the cutting of trees until the matter is head before the Supreme Court.
Senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Shankaranarayanan appeared for the law students who filed the petition. The National Green Tribunal is considering whether the area is an eco-sensitive zone and therefore, the authorities should have refrained from cutting down trees until a decision was taken, they said.
Aarey is considered a “green lung” of the city as it is one of the few areas that have dense forest cover. Both the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and the BJP-run state government have maintained that Aarey is not a forest area and hence the trees can be axed.