The activist along with others were concerned that thousands of trees will be felled on the large 33 hectare portion of Aarey—equivalent to four Oval Maidans—in Goregaon East to make space for the Metro car depot.
She had filed a special leave petition to challenge a Bombay high court judgment of last October and in it had filed an application for orders to look for an alternative metro III car depot site.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna dismissed the interlocutory application within minutes. The bench referred to the Bombay HC ruling and the technical committee’s report. Senior counsel Gopal Shankarnarayan appeared for the activist and submitted that damage would be caused to the flora and fauna if Aarey was allowed to be location for the metro car shed.
Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appeared for Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation ltd (MMRCL) and advocate Asha Nair for BMC, but neither had to even argue as the hearing ended rapidly.
The MMRCL had said that a state appointed committee in its report had said that after considering various factors including the location and its proximity to the terminal points, size and shape of the plot three plots were found suitable. They are: Backbay Reclamation, Colaba, Kanjurmarg and Aarey Colony.
A technical committee had then studied these sites further and by a “majority opinion” recommended that the “Metro III car shed depot should be at Kanjurmarg with only a small stabling unit at Aarey depot.” It also recommended that, “if the land at Kanjurmarg was not made available within 3 months, then the car depot was proposed to be located at Aarey colony within 20 hectares” and it called for “measures to be taken” to mitigate environment damage at Aarey. The state had accepted the technical committee’s report in October 2015.
While some feel that the SC order now paves the way for the Aarey site to be the location for Mumbai Metro III car shed, Stalin D, activist from an NGO, Vanashakti which has been fighting hard for the cause of protecting the city’s green cover, said after the order, “Basically the SC seems to be not in favour of staying the ongoing work of the depot,” and added, “…All said and done the Citizens can always continue the fight and build pressure on the Tree Authority not to allow tree cutting in Aarey.” The SLP is still pending and will come up for hearing on April 26. “The SC has not directed construction of the car shed. All other issues are still open,” said Stalin.
The land, a green sprawl, is a forest and invaluable to maintain ecological balance in the city, the activists have been stressing. While the MMRC and Maharashtra government say that the Aarey land is not recorded officially anywhere as a forest, and is the ideal location for the metro car shed. The state was against moving the car shed to any other location.
The HC in its October 2018 ruling had observed that the state had imposed certain conditions and directed that the MMRCL must strictly abide by these conditions while constructing the car shed.
The HC bench of Justices SC Dharmadhikari and PD Naik had upheld the state’s decision to change the ‘use’ of the land presently covered with trees to a metro car shed for the underground Mumbai Metro 3 line.
The PIL was filed by activist Amrita Bhattacharjee and others with tree activist Zoru Bathena supporting the fight to prevent destruction of Mumbai’s only large green lung.
The PIL had challenged notifications dated August 24, 2017, and November 9, 2017 sanctioning part of the Development Plan 2034, by which the state and modified the classification of the land from Green Zone to Mumbai Metro 3 Car Depot in the city’s only large green oasis in the western suburb at Goregaon.
The activists argued before the HC that the notification is illegal as it has been issued without first obtaining permission under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and issued without obtaining permission under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the activists argued. Besides no Development Control Regulations have been framed, they had said.
But the state had relied on its affidavit filed before a National Green Tribunal to argue that the land in question is not a forest or reserved as forest and hence the state’s actions were justified and legal.
The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday denied four weeks’ time demanded by the state government to study alternative sites for the Metro 3 car shed currently planned at Aarey. The SC instead granted the state government only one week to file a reply. Tree activists in the city had challenged the Bombay high court (HC) order in the SC that Aarey was not a forest.
Activists in the city filed a petition in the HC in 2017 that 33 hectares of Aarey forest land should not be used for the Metro 3 car shed to maintain the ecological balance, and alternative sites should be used.
Stalin D, director of the NGO, Vanshakti, said, “The BMC has freed so many open spaces for development, then why can’t the Metro 3 car shed go there. The MMRCL replied in the SC that the car shed was planned at Aarey only, and cannot be moved as shifting will be expensive. The government by hook or by crook wants to build the car shed at Aarey for revenue purposes by selling TDR. But this cannot be done at the cost of the environment.”