The Supreme Court on Monday restrained Maharashtra government from cutting any more trees in Mumbai's Aarey to set up a Metro car shed and asked to maintain status quo till October 21, the next date of hearing. A special bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said it will have to examine the entire thing and posted the matter for hearing on October 21 before its forest bench.
"Don't cut anything now," the bench said. The felling of trees is being opposed by green activists and local residents. The apex court decided on Sunday to register as PIL a letter addressed to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on the cutting of trees.
A notice was posted on the Supreme Court website about holding the urgent hearing.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra further ordered the police to release all activists, who were detained till date for their protest preventing the axing of trees. It has been flashpoint between environmentalists, residents on one side and proponents of infrastructural development on the other side.
Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon which has more than five lakh trees, together with Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is known as the green lungs of Mumbai.
The protests against cutting of trees also sparked Twitter campaigns and online 'petitions' such as #ArreyChipko #SaveAarey.
The letter sent to the CJI by Rishav Ranjan on behalf a student delegation on Sunday comes two days after the Bombay High Court refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation's decision to allow felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro car shed.
The letter states, "As we write this letter to you the Mumbai authorities continue to kill the lungs of Mumbai i.e Aarey forest by clearing of trees near Mithi river bank and according to news reports 1,500 trees have already been cleared by the authorities."
"Not only this but our friends are put in jail who were peacefully organising a vigil against the acts of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) at the site."
The students in their letter have requested the Supreme Court "to exercise its epistolary jurisdiction to protect Aarey without getting into technicalities as there was no time for preparation of a proper appeal petition and cover the scars of these young activists who are responsible citizens standing for serious environmental concerns".
It also said that the students have moved the apex court as the Bombay High Court rejected the bail plea of 29 activists who had participated in the "peaceful vigil" against the tree-felling and have been detained by Mumbai police.
The letter has alleged that the student-activists were abused and manhandled by the Mumbai Police which has booked them for the offences of 'assault on a public servant to deter him from discharging his duty' and 'unlawful assembly' under the IPC.
According to the letter, Aarey forest is located adjacent to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and has five lakh trees.
The trees were proposed to be cut for Mumbai metro-3 project and specifically for the construction of a car shed, it said and added that the high court refused to recognise Aarey as a forest or declare it as an ecological sensitive issue because of jurisdictional limits.
The police on Saturday imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Aarey, restricting movements and gathering of groups, and cordoned off the area.