A mass felling of trees in one of the world’s most-polluted megacities was halted by the Supreme Court yesterday, amid protests their removal would strip Mumbai of a precious “green lung”.
Some 2,700 trees were being cut down in Mumbai to make way for a depot for subway carriages in the city of nearly 20mn people.
But the felling angered locals, with Bollywood stars and residents joining regular demonstrations that grew over the weekend after workers started removing the trees at night.
More than two dozen activists were arrested during weekend protests were all later released on bail, police said.
Following an emergency hearing called after petitions from activists, the Supreme Court said no more trees in the suburb of Aarey were to be felled until a next court session on October 21.
The date is also when crucial state elections are to be held, with the dispute taking on political significance.
The court also ordered the Maharashtra government to maintain status quo until that date.
The Shiv Sena, a powerful ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra, has criticised the federal government over the felling.
The subway project has sharply divided opinion and triggered a nationwide debate over conservation and need for development.
Supporters say Mumbai – ranked the world’s fourth most polluted megacity by the World Health Organisation last year – badly needs new transport, citing its overburdened colonial-era railway system used by some 7.5mn people every day.
Officials have defended the construction, saying only 30 hectares of the 1,300 that make up Aarey – a lush, green oasis close to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park – were being cleared.
Solicitor General Tushar assured the court that the Maharashtra government would not cut down any more trees further.
Part of the dispute over the development is whether the area should fall under forest protection laws that cover the national park.
Appearing for petitioners, senior lawyers Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Shankaranarayanan told the court that the issue whether Aarey was a forest or not was pending with the court.
They also told the court the that National Green Tribunal was hearing the issue whether the area is an eco-sensitive zone or not.
The Supreme Court also sought a report from the Maharashtra government on the afforestation drive to compensate for the tree cutting.
Solicitor General Mehta told the court over 20,000 trees were planted in the last few years by the government.
But, it failed to convince the court, which asked the state to place a report with photographs declaring how many trees have since survived.
Police have barricaded all access points to Aarey, and yesterday stopped activists and journalists from entering the area.
Environmental activist Puja Damadia said that after the decision was handed down, residents reported “hearing chainsaw noises, which means the trees are still being cut”.
“We cannot go inside to even vet the information. Mumbai police has not been letting us organise protests anywhere in the city despite procuring permissions in advance,” she said.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
India's seven-day Covid average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
WHO declares India Covid variant ‘of global concern’
WHO says virus strain in India a 'variant of concern' as Europe eases curbs
India's Covid-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
India turns to ex-army medics amid Covid surge
Variant among accelerators of India's Covid explosion: WHO top scientist
India's daily Covid-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
Indian states impose stricter lockdowns as coronavirus deaths hit record high
India hits 4,000 virus deaths in a day; States impose lockdowns