The Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed all petitions and PILs challenging the Tree Authority's decision to cut 2646 trees at Aarey. The decision has come as a disappointment to thousands who protested against BMC's move to cut trees at Aarey, often referred to as Mumbai's lungs.
Division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre imposed a cost of Rs.50,000 on one of the petitioners Yashwant Jadhav, who is a Shiv Sena corporator and also a member of the Tree Authority.
The bench has been hearing petitions filed by Vanashakti Public Trust, Yashwant Jadhav and public interest litigation filed by Zoru Bathena at length.
Amongst the issues considered by the bench were, the Tree Authority's decision to allow cutting of 2646 trees for metro car shed project dated August 29, 2019 and whether Aarey is a 'forest' and the need for protection of the Mithi river flood plain at Aarey, where construction is prohibited.
A battery of senior advocates appeared in the matter - Aspi Chinoy for BMC, Janak Dwarkadas for Zoru Bathena and Advocate General AA Kumbhakoni for Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL).
Bathena's PIL alleged that such a proposal for cutting of trees at Aarey has been floated from time to time since 2014 and has either been withdrawn or postponed due to stiff opposition.
Tree Authority which comes under the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) issued a Public Notice dated June 30, 2019 calling for suggestions and objections from members of the public on a proposal by MMRCL seeking removal of 2702 trees at Aarey (2238 trees proposed to be cut & 464 trees proposed to be transplanted).
Thereafter, over one lakh citizens filed their objections to the said proposal. On July 08, 2019, the Tree Officer of the said authority conducted a public hearing, where the petitioner and along with 500 other citizens attended and once again raised their objection.
Following this, Tree Authority held a meeting to decide on the said proposal on August 29. The said proposal tabled was for removal of 2646 trees at Aarey (2185 cut & 461 transplant), which is a reduction of 56 trees from the original proposal. At the said meeting, a Resolution was passed permitting the said proposal for removal of 2646 trees at Aarey. The said proposal was passed by a 'majority' of 8 to 6, with 3 nominated experts allegedly supporting the proposal, with 2 members walking out and with 2 members absent.
Vanashakti had sought protection of the trees at Aarey as they act as a flood plain for Mithi river.
State had argued that Aarey cannot be declared a forest as a bench headed by Justice SC Dharmadhikari had considered the issue and ruled that it is not a forest.
Janak Dwarkadas submitted that the Tree Authority did not apply its mind while taking the decision to axe 2646 trees. The duty of Tree Authority is to protect and preserve the trees in Mumbai, not to illegally sanction their destruction, Dwarkadas had said.
Advocate General AA Kumbhakoni had told the bench that metro project was of paramount importance to the city and it was pivotal for easing the pressure in local trains. Every day almost 10 persons die due to overcrowding in suburban local trains, Kumbhakoni said.
To this Chief Justice Nandrajog had said-
"Don't cut so many trees that our future generations do not know what a tree is. We will have to show them photographs of trees and say look, this is a tree! Or, they will see trees painted on the metro trains"
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