Midnight drama at Mumbai’s Aarey as authorities begin hacking trees, activists storm site
A few hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena opposing tree-felling in north Mumbai’s Aarey Colony to build a Metro car shed, activists alleged that authorities had started hacking trees in a late night move. Out of a total of over 2,600 trees which are to be felled, 200 had been cut by Friday night, activists alleged.
According to activists gathered at the site, at least 200 trees were felled before environmentalists and residents stormed the site, causing Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation workers to flee.
After activists broke barricades to stop authorities from cutting trees at Picnic Point in Aarey Colony, the police stepped in and detained a few protesters. “The police are hitting people, including a few Adivasis at the protest site. Adivasi girls are sitting inside and are refusing to leave. We all are in the police car. The police have detained people and taken them to police stations at different locations,” a protester said.
Some videos of trees being hacked at Aarey Colony have turned viral on social media. The site for the proposed car shed has heavy police deployment as hundreds of people gathered in the area late on Friday night to stop trees from being hacked.
Several tweets also appeared on micro-blogging site Twitter criticising the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) over the issue.
On Friday morning, a division bench of chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Bharati Dangre dismissed petitions by activist Zoru Bhathena and Shiv Sena corporator Yashwant Jadhav, who is also a member of the BMC’s tree authority.
Bhathena had questioned the validity of the decision on the grounds of lack of application of mind and due deliberations on the proposal submitted by the MMRC, seeking the removal of 2,702 trees — 2,238 to be cut and 464 to be transplanted.
This number was later revised by the tree authority to 2,646. The bench rejected the contention.
The court on Friday also dismissed a petition filed by a non-governmental organisation, Vanashakti, seeking a declaration that 2,280 hectares of Aarey Colony was a protected forest as contemplated under provisions of the Indian Forests Act, 1927.
The petitioner body claimed that Aarey Colony was contiguous to the Sanjay Gandhi Natural Park (SGNP) and has natural tree cover, including forest species and the area was rich in biodiversity. The court, however, felt that the issue was pending before the Supreme Court in TN Godavarman’s case and the petitioner body should therefore move the Apex Court for the relief.