Cannot cut Aarey trees till October 21: SC tells Maharashtra government

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday prohibited cutting of any more trees in Mumbai's Aarey colony and directed the Maharashtra government to maintain status quo till October 21, the next date of hearing.

The matter will then be examined by a bench dealing with forest matter -- whether it is forested area or eco-sensitive zone.

The Supreme Court in its order on Monday said that no more trees should be cut in the colony till that date to facilitate the construction of a car shed for Mumbai Metro.

The top court also recorded an undertaking by the Devendra Fadnavis government assuring the same.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan further ordered the police to release all activists, who were detained till date for their protest preventing the axing of trees.

Solicitor General Tushar assured the court that the Maharashtra Government is not going to cut down any more trees further in the Aarey Colony.

The top court agreed to examine the plea after petitioner's counsel told the court that the areas fall under the unclassified forest.

Appearing for petitioners' Senior Advocates Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Shankaranarayanan told the court that the issue whether Aarey is a forest or not is pending with the Supreme Court.

They also told the court that National Green Tribunal is hearing the issue whether the area is eco sensitive zone or not. The submission came on court's queries whether the area was forest or eco-sensitive zone.

The Supreme Court also sought report from Maharashtra government on the afforestation drive to compensate the tree cutting.

Meanwhile Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court over 20,000 trees were planted in last few years by the government. But, it failed to convince the top court, which asked the state to place a report with photographs mentioning how many trees have since survived.

The Aarey issue has been flash point between environmentalists, residents on one side and proponents of infrastructural development on the other side.

While several Bollywood stars have echoed concerns, actors Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar have come out in support of the government backing the metro project.A

Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of the BJP's coalition partner Shiv Sena, and his son, Aaditya Thackeray have thrown their weight behind the activists, who have been fighting for the last two years.

The two-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan was constituted after a group of law students wrote to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi seeking the top court's intervention in the matter and the cutting of trees to be suspended immediately.

This comes a day after the Bombay High Court rejected an application moved by environmentalists seeking a stay on the cutting of trees.

Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon which has more than five lakh trees, together with Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is known as the green lungs of Mumbai.

The protests against cutting of trees also sparked Twitter campaigns and online 'petitions' such as #ArreyChipko #SaveAarey.

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