Mumbai: Amid the ongoing hue and cry over the status of city’s only green lung – Aarey Colony -- the question that remains unanswered is whether it is a forest or not.
The Maharashtra government has maintained that Aarey is not a forest and this stand was clearly reiterated by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday.
However, whether Aarey is a forest or not is likely to be decided by the Bombay High Court during the week; it is seized of a plea filed by NGO Vanshakti, which is seeking a declaration classifying the green cover as a forest.
According to activists, the confusion has arisen only because of the lack of a nomenclature. “The Aarey Colony is an unclassified forest as per the government records.
This is a category of forests which are not notified or declared under the Forests Act,” said senior counsel Gayatri Singh, appearing for Vanshakti. Singh said that historically Aarey is forest.
“Aarey has been a forest and it continues to be one. It has tribal people living in it. These tribals were given forest receipts way back in 1950s,” Singh said.
“We have enough documentary evidence to prove Aarey is a forest and has not been notified as such; just because of lack of political will and to allow vested interests to harness the sprawling land,” Singh added.
The NGO Vanshakti had moved the National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) in Pune urging it to declare Aarey as a forest. The NGT, however, refused to make such a declaration citing ‘jurisdictional’ issues.
“The NGT had however, granted us the liberty to move an appropriate authority and hence we moved the High Court,” Singh added.
As regards the statement of CM Fadnavis that even the Supreme Court has held Aarey is not a forest, Singh said, “The contention is misplaced. The only thing which the HC had said in its orders upholding the notification to construct the Metro III car shed was that it would not go into the issue whether it is a forest or not.”
“This was the opinion of the HC as at that point of time, our original plea was pending in the NGT. It is only subsequently, after NGT refused to decide on our plea seeking to declare Aarey a forest, that we moved a fresh petition in the HC,” Singh added.
This fresh petition filed by Vanshakti along with over 10 other matters, all pertaining to Aarey, are likely to be heard on Tuesday by a bench led by Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog.