New Delhi: As protests by residents and environmentalists against felling of over 2,000 trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony gathered steam and the issue took a political colour, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed the felling of any more trees for now. The trees have been cut to build a Mumbai Metro car shed
On Monday, a special bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said it would have to examine the entire thing and posted the matter for hearing on October 21 before its forest bench.
"Don't cut anything now," the bench said, according to a report by PTI.
The SC also sought an afforestation report from the Maharashtra government.
Terming the cutting of trees as “illegal”, the apex court said Aarey forest was a “no-development zone and not eco-sensitive zone, as claimed by petitioner.”
However, the stay could have come a tad late, as the Indian Express cited the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta as saying that “whatever has to be cut is cut. Nothing further is to be cut”.
The top court also directed the immediate release of those arrested for protesting the cutting of trees, after furnishing of personal bonds.
During the hearing the Maharashtra Government told the bench that all those arrested for protesting against cutting of trees in Aarey had been released.
Mehta, who was appearing for the Maharashtra Government, also submitted that he was not aware of all records and assured the bench that nothing will be cut in Aarey till the case is decided.
On Sunday, the country’s top court decided to register as a public interest legislation, a letter addressed to Ranjan Gogoi, the Chief Justice of India, by a law student named Rishav Ranjan, who sought a stay on the felling of trees.
A notice was posted on the Supreme Court website about holding the urgent hearing, PTI said.
The letter states, "As we write this letter to you Mumbai authorities continue to kill the lungs of Mumbai i.e Aarey forest by clearing of trees near Mithi river bank and according to news reports 1,500 trees have already been cleared by authorities.
"Not only this but our friends are put in jail who were peacefully organising a vigil against acts of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) at the site."
According to the letter, Aarey forest is located adjacent to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and has five lakh trees.
Amid the campaign for the Maharashtra Assembly elections, massive protests have been going on in Mumbai, leading to arrests of several environmental activists as well as residents of Aarey Colony.
All political parties in the state, except the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have come out will statements condemning the felling of trees, especially on the middle of the night following a Bombay High Court order last week, which gave a go-ahead for the same.
Ironically, BJP ally, Shiv Sena, which heads the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that is overseeing the cutting of trees, and has its party leader as the state environment minister, has opposed the felling of trees.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, a sessions court granted bail to 29 protesters arrested over the last two days on charges of allegedly obstructing and assaulting police personnel on duty during protests against felling of trees at Aarey Colony.
The arrests were made over Friday night and Saturday after clashes broke out between the police and green activists opposing axing of trees by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) in Aarey Colony in north Mumbai to make way for a car shed.
Earlier, there was heavy police deployment and police clamped Section 144 in Aarey, restricting movements and gathering of protesting groups.
(with inputs from PTI)