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The Bombay High Court has upheld the decision taken to clear over 2,600 trees in the Aarey Colony, as per a resolution passed by the Tree Authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on August 29, for construction of Metro car depot.
In doing so, it has dismissed two pleas; one challenging the Tree Authority proceedings in which the August 29 resolution was passed, and a second filed by NGO, Vanashakthi to declare over 1,000 hectares of the Aarey Colony as an ecologically sensitive zone under the Indian Forest Act.
The High Court also dismissed a petition filed by Shivsena Corporator Yashwant Jadhav, a member of Tree Authority, who had challenged the resolution of the panel. The Court imposed a cost of Rs. 50, 000 on Jadhav.
However, the Bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre have also clarified that the plea filed by Vanashakthi was dismissed not on merits, but rather on the principle of comity or legal reciprocity. The Court observed that the remedy sought in this plea lies with the Supreme Court or National Green Tribunal.
The Court noted that the Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the earlier judgment of the Bombay High Court of October, last year on Aarey is pending before the Apex Court.
The Division Bench passed the judgment while dismissing pleas filed in the wake of the decision by the BMC’s Tree Authority to clear over the trees at Aarey, for a Metro car depot project. The Bench had reserved orders in the matter on October 1.
On August 29, the Tree Authority had passed the resolution to cut the trees in Aarey, which included 2,185 trees proposed to be cut and 461 trees proposed to be transplanted for a Metro car shed for the Colaba- Bandra- Seepz Metro line and other projects.
Expressing their disappointment over the approval given for removing the trees in Aarey, citizens, and activists had earlier staged a protest across the city on August 30 and demanded the reversal of the decision.
Thereafter, environmental activist Zoru Bhathena approached the Bombay High Court, challenging the proceedings of the Tree Authority’s meeting in which the resolution was passed. Inter alia, Bhathena had contended there were no reasons recorded as to why the objections raised by the citizens have been overruled by the authority. It was further argued that the resolution was passed without receiving written inputs from all the trees experts. Moreover, Bhathena submitted that the resolution failed to record reasons as to why it differed from the experts’ opinion.
The State countered these arguments, asserting that there were no discrepancies in the process carried out to pass the resolution for the felling of trees. It was contended that Tree Panel had taken the decision to fell the trees as per the procedure laid down in the Tree Act, 1975 and with due application of mind. It was further argued that the metro project is of paramount importance for the city.
Bhathena had also approached the High Court, contending that the proposed metro car depot falls within the ‘flood-plain’ and therefore it cannot be constructed as per the state water policy. Moreover, Vanashakti had urged the Court to declare over 1,000 hectares of the Aarey Colony as an ecologically sensitive zone under the Indian Forest Act. The State authorities had denied these claims as well.
Today, while dismissing Vanashakti’s petition, the Division Bench noted that Davids (environmentalists) took on industrial Goliath’s. In view of this, Chief Justice Nandrajog remarked,
“In the instant case, the Davids (petitioners) row their boat with faith, courage, and devotion in the storm of development; but directionless. The Greens (environmentalists) fail in the instant petition because they have lost touch with the procedure to be followed as per law.”
On September 17, the High Court had passed an interim order restraining the MMRCL that from felling trees in the Aarey Colony until September 30. This relief was thereafter extended until the pronouncement of the judgment. The petitioners are likely to challenge the High Court judgment before the Supreme Court next week.
Senior Counsel Aspi Chinoy and Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni appeared for the BMC and the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), respectively. Senior Advocate Janak Dwarkadas for Zoru Bhathena. Senior Counsel Gayatri Singh appeared for the NGO, Vanashakti.
[Read the Judgment passed in Zoru Bhathena’s Plea]
[Read the Judgment passed in NGO Vanashakthi’s Plea]