A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha modified its status quo order on felling trees at the Aarey region in Mumbai for the metro car shed project.
It said that Tree Authority will be at liberty to take an appropriate decision on the MMRCL’s application by imposing suitable conditions.
The 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, the bench observed.
The apex court said that it would be impossible for it to stay the decision at the interim stage.
The bench said “In such projects involving a large outlay of public funds, the court cannot be oblivious of the serious dislocations caused if the public investment which goes into the project is disregarded. Undoubtedly, the concerns relating to the environment are important, as all development must be sustainable.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the MMRCL, submitted that 95 per cent of the work is over and permission is sought for cutting 84 trees.
“Serious prejudice would be caused to the public if because of 84 trees the entire project is stopped. No one would gain anything. So far as the trees are concerned, the trees will be transported or new trees will be planted,” Mehta contended.
Senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, appearing for activists opposing the felling of trees, said that as regards the car shed, except for a pillar, no construction has taken place.
In 2019, the Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to stop cutting trees in the Aarey forest area and directed it to maintain the status quo.
It had stayed cutting of trees in the Aarey forest area while hearing a suo moto PIL based on a letter written by a group of law students to the court against the felling of trees.
In October 2019, MMRCL started axing the trees after the Bombay High Court rejected a bunch of petitions filed by NGOs and activists against the tree felling. Resolved to save the trees, many protestors gathered at the site to raise their voice against the felling of trees. Later, more people joined the protestors near the Aarey colony area, where the Mumbai Police imposed Section 144, thereby banning unlawful assembly.
The protesters had been demanding the relocation of the bus depot, which is a part of the Metro III project.