The Bombay high court on Thursday restrained all authorities from cutting any tree for the Metro-3 line. More than 5,000 trees are required to be cut for the current route. The court also expressed the need to form an independent committee of experts to look into the matter of cutting so many trees and to examine the viability of relocating the trees required to be cut for the metro line between Colaba and SEEPZ in Andheri.
The judges expressed the need after senior advocate Janak Dwarkadas, representing one of the petitioners, Mina Verma, pointed out in the past five days the Metro-3 contractor has decimated about 100 trees.
There is an Act to protect and preserve trees in urban areas, there is a tree authority and tree officer and a procedure to grant permission for cutting trees, said the senior advocate. But permissions are granted in a mechanical manner, without application of mind, he said. He said in one case, the girth of the tree trunk mentioned in the permission was 1.5 feet, when in fact it is 19 feet and this shows that the tree officer has not visited the spot before granting the permission.
“The permissions are completely mindless,” Dwarkadas said, adding the authority has not followed prescribed procedure. Advocate Kiran Bagalia, who represented MMRDA, responded saying some damage to the environment is bound to take place.
But the bench wanted to know what precautionary measures the authorities have taken to preserve or relocate trees. “Let there be a separate and independent committee to look into this [complaints about noncompliance of provisions of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975] and examining viability of shifting trees and identifying trees for that purpose,” said the bench.
Bagalia and BMC counsel Trupti Puranik, too, opposed the suggestion urging the court to first allow them to file their respective reply affidavits.
The judges agreed to grant them time, but only after imposing restraint on cutting trees for Metro-3.The court has now posted the petitions for further hearing on Friday saying, “None of the authorities shall cut trees till further orders.”
Responding to a court query, the lawyer if another petitioner, Pravin Jehangir, said in all 5,012 trees will be cut for the Metro line. “Should the residents of Churchgate area go to Wadala to breathe fresh air,” said the judges after the lawyer pointed out that the MMRDA plans to replant at far off Wadala some of the trees required to be uprooted for the purpose of the Metro line and expressed the need of replanting or relocating the uprooted trees in the same localities.
While Verma has approached the court raising concern about destruction of green cover from Churchgate, Colaba and Cuff Parade, Jehangir has raised questions about use of public lands for construction of the entire Metro-3 line. He has contended that the special purpose vehicle created by MMRDA for the purpose of constructing the Metro line cannot exercise powers conferred upon railways to use any public lands for their purposes, and the Metro Railway Act requires the contractor to acquire specific rights even for using public lands temporarily.