Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Friday assured the Supreme Court on Friday that no trees have been cut to construct a metro car shed in the Aarey forest area in Mumbai since 2019 and no trees will be cut till the next date of hearing.
Mehta gave the assurance on behalf of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL). He was recording his statement against petitions filed in the court by green activists who had alleged continued felling and removal of trees. The matter will be heard next on Wednesday.
On Mehta’s contention that only some branches, shrubs and bushes had been pruned, senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, representing the petitioners, insisted that tree cutting had been resumed in the area despite the Supreme Court's order of 2019 to maintain the status quo.
A bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Aniruddya Bose noted that the matter needs to be heard in detail. "What we will do is to order the status quo," they said.
Mehta said, "If public interest litigations are filed with misleading allegations, it will leave a bad taste." The bench replied that there are benefits of having PILs.
The activists on their part lambasted the state government and MMRCL for their alleged lies in court and said they had produced old satellite images of the car shed site.
During the hearing, Justice Lalit pointed out that he had been amicus curiae in the Tamil Nadu Godavarman Thirumalpad case and asked if there was any conflict of interest in his hearing the matter. Mehta said he does not see any conflict.
But Justice Lalit said, "Can't hear this Aarey matter. I have not heard any forest matter for the past eight years [as a Supreme Court judge]..."
The bench said that in view of the MMRCL’s stand, there was no need for an interim order. It took on record the MMRCL response that no trees have been cut since the top court's status quo order in 2019.
The apex court had taken suo motu cognisance of the protests against the cutting of trees on the Aarey car shed plot in 2019 and ordered status quo on October 7, 2019, after Mehta gave an undertaking that no fresh felling of trees would be done till the next hearing. Residents alleged that 1,800 trees had been cut until then. The status quo order has been extended from time to time.
State government and MMRCL officials later said in Mumbai that work on the car shed for the Colaba-SEEPZ Metro 3 line would continue as the court had not granted an interim stay. However, MMRCL said no trees would be felled until further orders by the court.