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The Supreme Court today ordered the State of Maharashtra not to cut any further trees in Aarey and maintain the status quo till the next date of hearing.
The order was passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan in a letter petition.
The Court also added that all those activists and protesters who were arrested or detained by the Police should be released immediately, in case they have not been released this far. The release should be on furnishing of a personal bond, the Court said.
The matter will be taken up by the Forest Bench on October 21.
After the Bombay High Court dismissed pleas challenging the removal of trees in Aarey, and thereafter refused to entertain an urgent request to stay the tree removal, the municipal authorities had begun clearing the trees in Aarey. It is reported that around 1,500 trees were cut in the first round. the activists protesting the move were detained by the Police.
This had prompted a student delegation to write a letter to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to intervene in the matter. Treating the letter as a petition, a Special Bench was constituted to hear the matter today though the Supreme Court is currently shut for Dussehra break.
When the matter was taken up today, Senior Counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing some activists, briefed the Court on the background and facts of the case concerning Aarey Forest and the impending question of its eco-sensitive zone tag as well as its status as an unclassified forest.
The Court was told that the questions pertaining to Aarey’s forest status and its eco-sensitive tag were pending before the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal respectively.
Senior Counsel Sanjay Hegde appeared for the students who wrote the letter to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta representing the State of Maharashtra told the Court that there will be no more cutting of trees in the area.
“All the trees that were required to be cut have been cut and no more trees will be cut now.
…We are all concerned about the ecological impact”, Mehta added.
On the undertaking that the authorities will not cut any more trees since the requirement has been met, Mehta suggested that the case be taken up on a later date when the question of legality or illegality of the decision to cut trees can be examined.
Agreeing with the suggestion, the Court also added that the status of the saplings planted will have to be analyzed to which Mehta responded that the survival rate of these saplings is 95%.
The Court also inquired about the status of the detained activists and protesters. Mehta said that all those detained have been released. However, the Court still ordered that in case any of the persons detained are still in custody, they must be released immediately upon furnishing a personal bond.
The matter will now be heard on October 21 by the Forest Bench of the Supreme Court which is also headed by Justice Arun Mishra and also comprises Justice Deepak Gupta.
The Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation limited was represented by Senior Counsel Maninder Singh.