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Bombay High Court has stayed tree-felling in Aarey Colony till 30th September, citing ‘irreversible damage’ without an in-depth assessment by court. The hearing is posted on a daily basis before the bench of Chief Justice Nandrajog and Justice Dangre in Courtroom 52 of High Court premises.

The batch of petition, inter alia, challenges the clearance accorded by the Maharashtra Government to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) for building a metro car shed over 34 hectares of land. The Tree Authority has issued final permission letter to fell or transplant 2,646 trees in Aarey Colony. MMRCL is currently observing a statutory stay of 15 days, till 28th September, before trees can be cut.

Out of all the connected matters, the Chief Justice selected the following for current hearing: 1. Aarey Forest petition; 2. Aarey Flood plain (Mithi River) petition; 3 & 4. Petitions to challenge Tree Authority permission to cut trees at Aarey Colony.

While paperwork was found pending in serial nos. 2-4, Court yesterday began hearing on the Aarey Forest Petition. Remaining three petitions have been adjourned till 30th September.

The Court pointed out that the issue is not just about trees or a Forest, but an entire ecological system.

Court also heard experts in the field, Anand Pendharkar, wildlife biologist and Stalin Dayanand, conservationist and also associated with NGO Vanashakti spearheading the movement.

Petitioner Zoru Bhathena said the Chief Justice is interested to personally visit the site although a date has not been appointed yet. The activist said, “What is Forest – Trees! But what is also forest is the wildlife, the open areas; together they make forest. But the Forest Act defines it as tree-covered area, while wildlife falls under ecological area. The complexity in ‘Aarey’ is that we want to protect the environment which includes all sort of biodiversity.”

Chief Justice said if Aarey Colony is found not to be a forest, Court will inquire if it can issue a direction that it be declared a forest.

— India Legal Bureau

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