The Tree Authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it is yet to take a formal decision on felling and transplanting over 2,600 trees in the suburban Aarey area to make way for a Metro car shed.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre was hearing a petition filed by an environmental activist, Zoru Bathena, challenging the Tree Authority's approval given on August 29 for felling of the trees for the Metro car shed.
BMC's counsel Ravi Kadam on Wednesday told the division bench that the Tree Authority has not yet given permission to fell trees.
"A formal permission is yet to be given. Until then, no trees will be cut. After the formal permission is given, a person has 15 days time under the Maharashtra Felling of Trees Regulation Act to challenge the permission," Kadam said.
To this, Chief Justice Nandrajog said, "The petitioner was so scared that the authorities will start chopping the trees and hence, rushed to the court."
The bench directed the BMC and the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to file their affidavits in response to the petition by September 17.
"Since under law the authorities cannot start cutting trees as of now, we need not grant a formal stay (on the tree authority's approval)," the court said.
Kadam told the court that the BMC, in its affidavit, would place on record the order of the Tree Authority and also the minutes of the meeting.
Bathena's counsel Janak Dwarkadas told the court on Wednesday that the Tree Authority had not followed due process while approving the felling of trees.
"This is not a case of human versus human. It is a case of environment and trees against humanity," he said.
As per the petition, on August 29 this year, the Tree Authority tabled and approved a proposal made by the MMRCL to cut some trees in the Aarey area to make way for a car shed for the Mumbai Metro III project.
The authority approved the felling of 2,185 trees and transplanting (uprooting trees from the original spot and replanting them at an alternate spot) 461 trees from the area.
The Tree Authority's approval is mandatory for felling of more than 20 trees at a time at any place in the city.
The authority has a total of 19 members at present, including the BMC commissioner. Of these, five members are independent experts nominated by the BMC as per its own rules and HCs previous orders.
As per the petition, the proposal for felling of trees was approved by a majority of 8:6 members.
Two corporators, who are members of the Tree Authority, walked out following differences over the decision, and two independent expert members were absent from the meeting, the plea reads.
Besides, there was "no discussion on why six members disagreed with the proposal to fell the trees".
The BMC also did not discuss the opposition and objections raised by hundreds of citizens who wrote to it before the proposal was approved, the plea says.
Besides, "three of the five experts, namely Dr Deepak Apte, Dr Sashirekha Sureshkumar, and Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe, had said on a previous occasion that they did not have adequate time to examine all the trees" that were to be felled," Bhatena said in his plea.
Therefore, the approval granted by the Tree Authority cannot be considered proper, he said. The Aarey Colony in suburban Goregaon is known as a major green lung of the metropolis.
Several prominent personalities, including Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor, former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh and ex-cricketer Wasim Jaffer, recently extended their support to citizens opposing the axing of a large number of trees in the sprawling green belt here.