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Meet the law student who moved SC on Aarey

October 07, 2019 14:27 IST

'Even if not illegal, it was immoral to cut the trees at Aarey'

'We will try our best with other petitioners to stop the construction (of the metro shed at Aarey)'

'The whole of idea of development that this government has created is flawed'

IMAGE: Mumbai-ites stage a protest demanding that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd not cut trees at Aarey to build a Metro parking shed. Photograph: Prashant Waydande/Reuters

On Monday, the Supreme Court of India gave environmentalists some relief when it ordered a freeze on further felling of trees at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony until further orders.

The order came after the court had on October 6 taken suo motu cognisance of the matter and decided to register as public interest litigation a letter addressed to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by a law student, Rishav Ranjan. His letter sought a stay on the cutting of trees at Aarey Colony, described as Mumbai's green lung.

 

The letter sent to the CJI by Rishav Ranjan on behalf of a student delegation came two days after the Bombay high court had refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation's decision to allow felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a car shed for Mumbai Metro’s Line 3.

Speaking to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com, the fourth-year law student from Delhi said the issue of Aarey is not about trees alone, but about the birds and the other flora and fauna. "Every geographical location has an ecological implication," he said.

Are you happy that the Supreme Court has directed the Maharashtra government that no more trees should be cut at Aarey from now on?

We are delighted and we are thankful to the honourable Supreme Court of India which has given this relief.

The Maharashtra government said in the Supreme Court that their job in Aarey was complete and the trees that needed to be axed have been cut. So, what's there to be thankful for?

The government in court said that they will not cut any more trees than they already have. They have not given a figure as to how many trees have been cut and how many are still standing.

The Supreme Court will hear this case further on October 21. We are still not clear whether this amount (over 2000) of trees have been cleared by the government. They have said they will not cut more trees.

But what is the point of the Supreme Court ruling because the government has already done the job of cutting down trees? Isn’t it a victory for the government?

We will get the details from the government counsel. They said they have cleared the trees and the work is done. And that means they have cleared all 2,700 trees but that has not been reported by the Solicitor General of India as to how many trees have been cleared. So we cannot say anything regarding this.

So at this moment we are not aware of how many trees have been chopped and have to wait till October 21 to know the details?

We will try our best. We will try our best with other petitioners to stop the construction (of the metro shed at Aarey). Let us hope for the best.

IMAGE: Rishav Ranjan, a fourth year law student based in Delhi, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court demanding action against the felling of trees at Mumbai's Aarey Colony. In his letter, he requested the top court "to exercise its epistolary jurisdiction to protect Aarey without getting into technicalities as there was no time for preparation of a proper appeal petition and cover the scars of these young activists who are responsible citizens standing for serious environmental concerns". Photograph: Rishav Ranjan/Twitter

When the Bombay high court gives an order like permitting the cutting of trees you have to accept it. Isn’t it?

We want to accept the court verdict. The court itself said that there are certain issues which the court cannot exercise upon due to its jurisdictional limits. That is why the Bombay high court observed that there are some issues which cannot be proceeded on and they told petitioners to move the Supreme Court during their observation. The government knew this but they were restless and adamant to undertake this activity.

So do you think it was illegal for the government to chop down the trees in Aarey on Friday night itself soon after the high court order?

It is immoral. Even if cutting the trees was not illegal, it was immoral to cut the trees at Aarey.

You live in Delhi. Why is it that you were so moved by an issue in Mumbai that you took the matter to the Supreme Court?

We are law students and are connected to our friends in Mumbai. We are protesting against the acts perpetrated by the municipal body of Mumbai, who went in and chopped the trees at Aarey.

When our friends were detained in Mumbai on Friday they requested us to file a stay in the Supreme Court. At that time we came to know there was a petition filed in the Bombay high court and when the HC rejected that petition we approached the Chief Justice of India for relief.

Mumbai Metro chief, Ashwini Bhide, on Saturday slammed those who were protesting against the tree felling at Aarey and said that a false propaganda was being spread that a mandatory 15-day notice period between grant of approval to cut trees and the actual cutting was not met. Would you care to comment on that?

No tree officer was present at the site when they started axing the trees. When my friends went to Aarey they saw no tree officer. They did this illegally in the absence of a tree officer.

IMAGE: Since Friday, several protests have taken place across the city of Mumbai demanding that the trees not be felled at Aarey. Photograph: ANI Photo

People who are pro-Metro say that a false propaganda is being created by NGOs who want to score a point and get publicity. The allegation against them is that they are against development.

We should reconsider the model of development; we should re-think the idea of development. Development at what cost should be a question we all ask.

Development at the cost of livelihood, development at the cost of trees being axed?

The whole of idea of development that this government has created is flawed. It needs to be reconsidered. It is high time, we won’t tolerate this anymore.  

What would you like to say about the fact that the government has planted 24,000 trees across Mumbai for cutting down 2000 plus trees in Aarey?

Every geographical location has its ecological importance. Aarey, which is called the green lung of Mumbai, cannot be transplanted to another part of the city and expect it to be the same.

The issue is not about trees alone. It is about the birds, species, plants and everything. It has a different ecological impact on it. That cannot be substituted by planting of trees and saplings around the state. Every geographical location has an ecological implication.

You are all calling Aarey a jungle but many say Aarey is not a forest.

Nature will not get into technicalities whether this is a jungle or not. Nature will not look into it whether it is a government certified forest or not. We may go into technicalities, but nature will punish everyone, each one of us.

Are you associated with any organisation working to protect the environment?

We don’t have an organisation. I am just a student of law and with my juniors I have filed this petition.

SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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