Bad news for activists: Bombay HC dismisses all petitions opposing metro carshed in Aarey

In a major set back, the Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed all petitions against BMC decision which allowed felling of more than 2700 trees in Mumbai's Aarey forest for metro car shed.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and environmental activists on issues related to Aarey colony in Goregaon, a major green lung of the metropolis. The court termed all the petitioners as "Davids" taking on the industrial "Goliaths", apparently suggesting that they are fighting an unequal battle.

One of the pleas filed by the city-based NGO Vanshakti sought that the Aarey colony be declared a forest and ecologically sensitive zone, while another petition by green activist Zoru Bathena pleaded the area be given the status of a floodplain. Two separate petitions were filed by Bathena and Jadhav, challenging the decision of the BMC tree authority permitting the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) to cut 2,656 trees to construct a metro carshed in Aarey colony.

While dismissing the petitions filed by Bathena and Jadhav against the approval granted by the civic body's tree authority, the bench said the greens have failed on merit. "The tree authority's decision making process was fair, transparent and based on reason. The greens fail not on account of sailing their boats in the wrong channel but on merits," the court said. The bench imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on Jadhav, who is a member of the tree authority, terming his petition as "sheer voyagerism".

"It (Jadhav's plea) is sans any material and bereft of concise statements and details concerning the meeting of the tree authority held on August 29, 2019," the court said. The court noted that there was no variation in the opinion of the members of the tree authority on the issue of whether the trees could be transplanted or had to be cut. "There are good reasons for taking the view that the trees would not survive if transplanted and that it would be futile to spend good money to transplant the trees which ultimately would by and large die," the bench said.

The court also took note of the submission made by MMRCL counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni that the authority has alrea1dy planted 20,900 trees in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. "This establishes that about seven times the number of trees to be felled have been replaced by planting of saplings," the court said. The court termed all the petitioners as "Davids" taking on the industrial "Goliaths". "In the instant case, the Davids (environmentalists) row their boat with faith, courage and devotion in the storm of development but directionless," the bench said in its judgment dismissing the plea filed by Vanshakti.

The court also refused to accept the contentions raised by Bathena and Jadhav in their pleas that the tree authority had granted approval in a haste and without considering opposing views.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had given the tree hacking approval on August 29, 2019, triggering protests by green activists and common citizens who launched a "Save Aarey" campaign.

Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have argued that metro is in larger public interest, pointing out that it will wean people away from using cars, taxis and two-wheelers and result in sharp reduction in pollution. MMRCL, in its affidavit, also said Aarey Colony was not a naturally forested area as claimed by the petitioner. The delay in construction of the car shed will cause a loss of Rs 4.23 crore per day, it said, according to PTI.

(With inputs from PTI)

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