The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to pursue its application before the tree authority for the felling of 84 trees, for the Aarey metro car shed project.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising justice P.S. Narasimha said 84 trees can be cut subject to permission of tree cutting authority.
“We have arrived at the conclusion that MMRCL should be permitted to pursue its application before the tree authority for permission to fell 84 trees for the purposes of the ramp. We clarify that the tree authority would be at liberty to take an independent decision on the application and determine conditions, if any should be imposed,” said the bench.
The top court modified its status quo order on the felling of trees at Aarey forest in Mumbai for the metro car shed project. The MMRCL contended before the 95 percent of the project was over and the remaining part of the project was held up due to these 84 trees.
The bench observed that in such projects, which involves large outlay of public funds, the court cannot be oblivious of the serious dislocation caused if the public investment which goes into the project is disregarded. It further added that the concerns relating to the environment are important, as all development must be sustainable.
The top court was informed that 2,144 trees have already been felled and what remains is the cutting of the trees for the ramp. The bench clarified that it will hear the main petitions at a later stage while disposing of the interlocutory applications.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing MMRCL, contended that 95 per cent of the work is over and the original cost of the project was Rs 23,000 crore.
He said due to the delay caused by the litigation, the cost has increased to Rs 37,000 crore and emphasized that there will be a huge impact on carbon emission going down, and also the traffic on the metro track would be reduced to a large extent.
Mehta pressed that serious prejudice would be caused to the public if due to 84 trees the entire project is stopped and nobody will gain anything, and also the trees will be transported or new trees will be planted.
Senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing activists against felling of trees, said Rs 23,000 crore is the investment for the whole project and not for the car shed and cited committee reports which suggested Kanjurmarg as a more suitable site for the project in terms of technical feasibility, ability to cater to passenger needs, and impact on environment.
He added that at the metro car shed site, no construction has taken place, except for a pillar.
In November, MMRCL moved the Supreme Court to direct the tree authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to decide their plea for permission to cut 84 trees on the 33 hectares plot of the Metro car shed depot land in Aarey Colony.
The apex court had taken suo motu cognisance of the protests against the cutting of trees in the Aarey car shed plot in 2019.
It had ordered status quo on October 7, 2019, after Mehta gave an undertaking that no fresh felling of trees would be done till the next date of hearing.
The status quo order had been extended from time to time.