Breaking: Supreme Court Permits MMRCL To Move Tree Authority To Cut 84 Trees For Aarey Metro Shed
The Supreme Court today permitted the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (MMRCL) to pursue its application before the Tree Authority to fell 84 trees. The Court has listed the batch of cases in the first week of February 2022 for final hearing.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha noted in its order that the IA moved by the MMRCL is for permission to move the tree authority to fell 84 trees for the construction of the shunting segment of the metro car depot. It noted that IAs have also been filed seeking to restrain all construction within the 33-hector area in Aarey and for a stay on clearing of land, excavation and construction at the site.
The Bench noted in the order that the Center had written against shifting the car shed to Kanjurmarg from Aarey and requested the state to reconsider its earlier decision to shift the depot to Kanjuarmarg. The Court noted that the state had in July, 22 decided to allow the work of the depot at Aarey to proceed.
The Court also noted in the order, the submission of the Solicitor General about the escalation of the cost of the project and that 95% of the work has been completed and that permission has already been granted for the felling of 2185 and 285 trees and that permission is now been sought to move the authority for felling of 84 trees.
"In such projects involving large public funds, the courts cannot be oblivious to the serious dislocation which will be caused if the public investment which has gone into the project were to be disregarded. Undoubtedly, considerations pertaining to the environment are of concern because all development must be sustainable. The state government which had taken a decision to accept the technical committee report in 2015 later on changed its view while deciding upon the realignment of the metro car project at Kanjuarmarg", the Court said in the Order.
At this stage, it cannot be gainsaid that the facts set out in the communication of the centre cannot be disregarded. It will not be possible for the court at the interim stage to restore the decision to shift the depot to Kanjurmarg, the Court said in its order.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for MMRCL submitted that the price of the project escalated from 23 thousand crores to 37 thousand crores on account of the pendency of the case before the Apex Court. Chief Justice Chandrachud replied by saying that the escalation is also on account of the change of the stand of the state government.
Mehta submitted that the entire project has been stalled due to eighty-four trees and that 22 thousand crores have already been spent on the project and 95 per cent of the work is completed.
"Your lordships are considering the matter when admittedly 23 thousand crores are invested and 95 % of the project is over, except the part where shunting is to take place. Whether the alternative site could or could not have been better is now more academic than practical", Tushar Mehta submitted.
The Solicitor General also made submissions about how the environment will benefit once the project is implemented.
"People will continue to have more cars. The presumption that one day cars will come down and fuel consumption will come down.. may not be correct", the CJI said when Solicitor General submitted that the usage of motor vehicles will reduce after the metro becomes functional.
Senior Advocate CU Singh for the petitioner submitted, "We are not on 84 trees, we are on site of the car shed". He submitted that Rupees 23 thousand crores is the expense of the entire project and not just the car shed. He said that no construction has taken place at the proposed site. He showed photographs of the site to the Bench. He said that the escalation of price is due to market factors and has nothing to do with the car shed.
Singh also submitted that an expert committee report favoured shifting the shed out of Aarey and read the report at length. He submitted that in the first meeting of the new Chief Minister with the Deputy Chief Minister, the previous decision to shift was reversed without consideration of all aspects.
Senior Advocate Anitha Shenoy submitted, "this area is highly sensitive, there are numerous reports and studies done about this area". She said that the area is biologically rich and in October 2020 an area including the site where the car shed is proposed was treated as jungle and there is a petition pending to treat it as a reserve forest. She said that a metro shed is a red-category industry which is being permitted in an area surrounded by forest. "There is going to be continuous damage to a pristine environment", she submitted.
She submitted that the shed will be expanded in future. "It is going to be a continuous thing. It doesn't end here", she submitted, adding that transplanting trees has been a complete failure.
Advocate Bobde rejoined on behalf of the MMRCL and submitted that there is a stay from the High Court on construction at the alternative site at Kanjurmarg. She also submitted that the High Court has held that the proposed area in Aarey is not a forest. She submitted that the NGT has also dismissed the pleas of the petitioners against the proposed construction. She submitted that the proposed site is not even in an ecologically sensitive area and that there are many other constructions in the area.
The Supreme Court had suo moto taken up the issue on October 7, 2019 on the basis of a letter petition by law student Rishabh Ranjan against cutting of trees for the construction of a Metro Shed in Aarey Forest Area, Mumbai. The cutting of trees in the Aarey Forest had led to protests by environmental activists and residents of the area.
In August, The Court permitted the extension of undertaking by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (MMRCL) about not cutting trees for the construction of the Metro Shed.
In August 2019 Mumbai Civic Body Tree Authorities approved a proposal to cut 2,185 trees from Aarey for construction. A series of pleas were filed in Bombay High Court but they were all dismissed. In the meanwhile, MMRCL began cutting the trees.
In October, 2019, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before the Apex Court that no further trees will be cut in Aarey.
The new government with Eknath Shinde as the Chief Minister reversed the earlier government's decision to shift the car shed and announced that it will continue with the decision that was taken when Devendra Fadnavis was the Chief Minister.