Sunday, February 5, 2023

Aarey metro car shed project: Supreme Court modifies status quo, allows MMRCL to approach Tree Authority for felling of 84 trees

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The Supreme Court today modified its status quo order on the Aarey metro car shed project and allowed the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to pursue its application before the Tree Authority for the felling of 84 trees for the ramp at Aarey region in Mumbai for its metro car shed project.

The Court observed that Maharashtra Government’s fresh decision to restore the location of the car shed at Aarey, after changing its earlier decision to relocate the same to Kanjurmarg, was based on relevant considerations and that it would be ‘impossible’ for this Court to stay the decision at the interim stage.

The order was passed by a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha, which noted that, prima facie, there was a view of the Bombay High Court which holds as valid the felling of trees as well as the decision to locate the metro car shed at Aarey. The Bench also noted that the Supreme Court had earlier declined interim relief against the project.

The Court said that the tree authority will be at liberty to take an appropriate decision on MMRCL’s application by imposing suitable conditions. 

During the hearing today, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta had presented the map of Aarey project in the court and said that the government was seeking permission to cut 84 trees to build a shed in the metro project.

the CJI asked the SG, whether the authority was waiting for permission to cut trees?

The SG replied in yes and said that out of the total project cost of Rs 23,000 crore, Rs 22,000 crore had been invested. Due to the same litigation, the cost of the project has increased to Rs 37,000 crore.

The SG also told the court that 95 percent work of this project has been completed and if the entire project was stopped because of 84 trees, then a wrong message will be sent to the public.
The SG said that this project will help in reducing the carbon emissions and due to the metro track, the movement of vehicles will be reduced. No one will gain anything if this project is closed.
Regarding the trees, he said they will be transported from the project site and replaced with new trees.

On August 24, the Supreme Court had directed the MMRCL to extend its previous undertaking on no felling of trees for the construction of Aarey Metro Shed, till August 30.

The direction was given by a Bench comprising then CJI U.U. Lalit, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, which also granted the state government two more days as the last opportunity to place on record the additional documents in the case.

Appearing for Maharashtra government, Advocate Chitnis had contended that there were 29 additional documents, for which, he needed time to collate. the Court gave him time till August 26.
Advocate Rukmini Bobde, representing MMCL, contended that it has already filed an affidavit that no tree has been cut after the Court’s order of October 7, 2019 and will not be cut in any manner till further orders.
The Court ruled that the undertaking given by Mr. Charudas, Director of MMRCL, has been taken on record already and that MMRCL needs to be ‘strictly’ bound by the undertaking.

Representing the petitioners, Senior Advocate Anitha Shenoy alleged that despite the SC order, MMRCL was continuing with the “levelling” work.

She sought an order from the Court that no development work be undertaken by MMRCL, after which the Court directed the Corporation to abide by its previous undertaking. The Counsel for MMRC assured the Court that no trees will be cut till the next hearing (August 30).

The Bench further said that it was a matter of a few days and that if MMRCL violated the undertaking, the Court will take a serious view.

On its previous hearing, the Apex Court had noted the statement made by SG Mehta that MMRCL did not cut any tree after the Court’s order of October 7, 2019 and the status quo will be maintained till the next hearing.

The Court had directed the parties to file a convenience compilation.
The Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the issue on October 7, 2019 on the basis of a letter petition by law student Rishabh Ranjan against cutting of trees for the construction of a Metro Shed in Aarey Forest Area, Mumbai.

The cutting of trees in Aarey Forest had led to protests by environmental activists and residents of the area. Earlier, a Bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Ashok Bhushan had ordered that a “status quo be maintained with respect to cutting of trees”.

In August 2019, Mumbai Civic Body Tree Authorities had approved a proposal to cut 2,185 trees from Aarey for construction. A series of pleas were filed in the Bombay High Court, but they were all dismissed. In the meanwhile, MMRCL had started cutting the trees.

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