Bombay HC vacates stay on felling trees for Metro-4 corridor
In a major reprieve for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday vacated its interim order passed on September 20, which restrained the authority from felling any tree for Metro-4 (Wadala to Kasarwadavli in Thane).
“A public project cannot be stopped like this,” said a bench of justice SC Dharmadhikari and justice RI Chagla, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the permission to develop the elevated corridor. The petitioner, Thane Nagrik Pratishthan, wanted the line to be developed as an underground corridor.
The plea challenged two notifications issued by the urban development department, on June 30, 2018 and January 2, 2019. Objecting to the first notification, which appoints MMRDA as a special planning authority, the petitioner stated that Section 40 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966 empowers the state only to appoint a special planning authority for an undeveloped area, not a project. The second notification, which exempts the authority from obtaining permissions from planning authorities, flouts provisions of the Development Control Regulations, as 11 of the 32 stations are planned on narrow roads with a width of less than 20m, the plea stated. At some points, the line is close to the existing buildings, posing a threat to life and property, along with a safety concern, it claimed. The petitioner also complained that the MMRDA has not obtained the mandatory prior environmental clearance for the line.
On Monday, the bench asked the petitioner: “Are you suggesting that trees can’t be cut even for infrastructure projects?”
Senior advocate Gayatri Singh, who represented the petitioner body, justified the interim order, pointing out that the Thane Municipal Commissioner had in August granted permission to cut 36 trees and transplant more than 900 trees for the project, in breach of provisions of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975. Singh said only the tree authority could have passed such an order. The bench, however, felt the petitioner could not have obtained such an order, without a notice to other parties and there was no justification to continue the interim order.