Aarey forest: SC permits tribals to move HC on felling of trees

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday permitted some forest dwelling tribals to move the Bombay High Court with their grievances related to the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey forest for the metro rail project.

Many trees being cut for the project are on their land.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submissions of senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for some tribals who claim to be living in the Aarey forest area, and asked them to intervene in a pending petition before the Bombay High Court on the issue.

The senior lawyer said, “We seek to intervene. I appear for the tribals and others who will be displaced if the trees are cut…49 trees are on our land.” The bench said a petition is already pending before the high court and they can raise the issue of enforcement of their right there.

“The petitioners claim rights as forest dwellers. Since the petition is pending before the high court. A liberty is granted to raise this before the high court and the high court may consider this for expeditious listing,” the bench said in its order.

On April 17, the apex court came down heavily on Mumbai Metro for trying to overreach its earlier order permitting the felling of only 84 trees in Aarey forest for a car shed project and directed it to pay Rs 10 lakh as penalty.

The court said it was improper on the part of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to move the tree authority for felling of any trees in excess of 84. The top court, however, permitted the company to remove 177 trees from Aarey forest, saying a stay on tree felling would lead to the public project being brought to a standstill which is not desirable.

The apex court in 2019 took suo motu cognisance of a letter petition addressed to the chief justice of India by law student Rishav Ranjan seeking a stay on the felling of trees in the colony.

On November 29 last year, the apex court permitted Mumbai Metro to raise with the relevant authority its plea for felling 84 trees at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony.

On August 24 last year, the top court directed MMRCL to strictly abide by its undertaking that no trees will be cut there and warned that any violation would result in strict action.

The apex court had restrained the authorities from felling any more trees after the solicitor general submitted on behalf of the State of Maharashtra that no further trees will be cut.

The felling of trees in the colony has been opposed by green activists and residents.