Bombay High Court refuses to stay on-going felling of trees in Aarey [Read Order]

Bombay High Court refuses to stay on-going felling of trees in Aarey [Read Order]

Omkar Gokhale

In a setback to environmental activists, the Bombay High Court on Saturday rejected their plea seeking a stay on the ongoing felling of trees at Aarey Colony for the State government’s metro car depot project.

On Friday, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre had dismissed pleas challenging the decision of the BMC’s Tree Authority to allow the removal of over 2,600 trees in the Aarey Colony to make way for a metro car depot project.

In a separate judgment passed the same day, the Bench had also rejected a plea by NGO Vanashakthi to declare over 1,000 hectares in Aarey as an ecologically sensitive zone under the Indian Forest Act.

Following Friday’s verdict, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) had begun felling trees in Aarey the same night. Therefore, the activists had moved the Court on Saturday, seeking a stay on felling of trees until they move appeals challenging the High Court verdict before the Supreme Court.

Since Chief Justice Nandrajog, who rendered a judgment rejecting petitions against the metro project on Friday was not available, the environmental activists had urgently moved their plea before a Special Bench headed by Justice SC Dharmadhikari on Saturday.

During the in-chamber hearing before the Bench of Justices Dharmadhikari and AK Menon, the activists sought a stay on the felling of the Aarey trees on the ground that they would be challenging the High Court verdict before the Supreme Court.

The petitioners submitted that an oral request made on Friday to restrain the cutting of trees until the parties move the Supreme Court, had  been rejected at the time.

However, the Bench led by Justice Dharmadhikari, on Saturday observed that there was nothing on record to show that such a request was made after the Court pronounced its verdict on Friday. With this observation, the Bench proceeded to reject the plea made for interim stay, holding

“There is nothing on record to show that any request was made to stay the operation, implementation and enforcement of the judgment and order, nor any specific restraint was sought.  We cannot proceed on any oral understanding.  Merely because another Bench is constituted, it would not be proper to grant any relief. The nature of the relief is such that if it is granted, that would directly contravene the observations, findings and conclusions in the detailed judgment.”

The aggrieved petitioners are likely to move the Supreme Court on appeal next week.

It may be noted that in Vanashakthi’s case, the Court had not dismissed the plea on merits. Rather, the Bench clarified that it is being dismissed on the principle of comity or legal reciprocity. As far as Vanashakthi’s plea is concerned, the High Court had observed that the remedy sought lay with the Supreme Court or National Green Tribunal.

[Read the Order passed on October 5, 2019]

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