The Bombay high court on Tuesday said Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd shall not fell trees in the Aarey Colony area to make way for a Metro car shed till September 30.
The court will hear a petition challenging proposed felling of over 2,600 trees in this area in north Mumbai from September 30, said a division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre.
Activist Zoru Bathena has filed a petition challenging the approval granted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's Tree Authority on August 29 to cut trees for the Metro car shed.
When the bench said it would commence hearing on Bathena's petition on September 30, his counsel Janak Dwarkadas said that on September 13 the tree authority issued final permission letter to MMRCL for felling or transplanting 2,646 trees.
However, no trees can be cut for the next 15 days, because under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, this much period has to be granted to citizens to raise objections, Dwarkadas said.
"The 15-day period gets over on September 28. We would like MMRCL to make a statement that it would not start cutting trees till September 30," he said.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for MMRCL, said he need not make official statement but the authority was not in a "hurry" to cut the trees.
"It is understood that they (MMRCL) will not chop the trees," Chief Justice Nandrajog then said.
As per Bathena's petition, on August 29 the Tree Authority approved MMRCL's proposal to cut 2,185 trees and uproot and replant elsewhere another 461 trees.
Green activists are opposed to felling of trees in Aarey Colony, which, together with Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is known as the green lung of the metropolis.
MMRCL and the BMC have argued that metro is in larger public interest.
Metro will wean people away from using cars, taxis and two-wheelers and result in sharp reduction in pollution, the two agencies said.
MMRCL in its affidavit also said Aarey Colony was not a naturally forested area as claimed by the petitioner.
The delay in construction of the car shed will cause a loss of Rs 4.23 crore per day, it said.
Besides Bathena's, three more petitions have been filed on the issue. The petition filed by NGO Vanshakti seeks a direction to the government to declare Aarey a forest area.
The high court on Tuesday said it would look into the question whether Aarey Colony is a forest, and if it is not, can the court issue a direction that it be declared a forest.
"If we arrive at the conclusion that Aarey has to be declared as forest then all the other issues do not arise as all the environmental restrictions come in place. We will also go into the issue of whether the decision taken by the tree authority is legal," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.
The judges also stated that forest does not mean just trees and plants.
"What we common people call forest, a real environmentalist may call a jungle. Forest is like the Amazon forest where the vegetation is so rich and thick that sunlight does not reach the ground," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.
The hearing on Vanshakti's petition will continue on Wednesday.