The Supreme Court on Monday rapped the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) for its attempt at felling more than permitted number of trees (84) for the Mumbai Metro car shed and imposed a fine of ₹10 lakh on it. The amount is to be deposited with the Chief Conservator of Forests.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala, however, permitted the MMRCL to fell 177 trees saying that a stay on it would lead to the public project being brought to a standstill which is not desirable.
Improper on MMRCL's part, says SC
Saying that it was improper on MMRCL’s part to move the tree authority for felling of any trees in excess of 84, the bench said: “MMRCL within a period of two weeks should provide an amount of ₹10 lakh to the conservator of forests. The conservator shall ensure that all afforestation which has been directed is completed.”
It added: “We request the director of IIT Bombay to depute a team for the purpose of verifying compliance. A report should be submitted to this court in three weeks.”
When FPJ contacted MMRCL, it refused to comment on the issue.
On Monday, the SC was hearing an application filed by the MMRCL seeking permission to fell 185 trees instead of 84 trees. It justified felling an additional number of trees saying that in the last four years, shrubs had grown into trees.
Move violation of top court's order
The judges were miffed at the fact that the superintendent of gardens and trees officer had granted permission to fell 177 trees in violation of the top court's order.
“You people think you can take the Supreme Court for a ride. You cannot overreach the court. Officer of MMRCL should also be sent to jail. Ask CEO of MMRCL to be present in court," the CJI said.
The SC remarked that both the MMRCL and BMC were in contempt of the court.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta while admitting that there was a lacuna on the authorities' part, but said that it was bona fide and there was no intention to override the court. He even urged the court to reconsider when the bench suggested imposing penalty. Instead he suggested that reforestation of 3,000 trees can be directed which can serve a larger cause.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan, appearing for the NGO Vanashakti, said that fraud had been played on the court.
In 2019, the apex court had taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of a letter petition addressed to the CJI by law student seeking a stay on the felling of trees in the Aarey Milk Colony. On October 7, 2019, the SC had ordered the State of Maharashtra not to cut any further trees at Aarey, and to maintain the status quo.
In November 2022, the SC allowed the MMRCL to fell 84 trees reasoning that this was required for a shunting site/ramp, without which the overall metro project would have no consequence.
The MMRCL, however, applied to fell 185 trees. The superintendent of gardens and trees officer granted permission to fell 177 trees and transplant 53 trees subject to the condition that 1,533 trees will be re-planted.
This was challenged by Vanashakti and activist Zoru Bathena before the Bombay HC. However, the HC asked the MMRCL to seek clarification from the apex court since it was seized of the matter.
Accordingly, MMRCL filed an application in SC.
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