Mumbai: Activists and leaders of the opposition Congress and NCP on Monday welcomed the Supreme Court's order restraining authorities from cutting anymore trees in Aarey Colony here to make way for a Metro car shed.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and NCP leader Supriya Sule hit out at the BJP-led state government for "haste" in cutting trees and "suppressing" the voice of activists and the common man.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) started hacking trees from Friday night to make way for the car shed, hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and activists, challenging the decision to allow felling of trees in the prime green lung of the city.
"The haste with which the Maharashtra government acted over the weekend in cutting trees is condemnable," Sule said. "The Supreme Court decision on Aarey is welcome.
However what is worrying is the admission of the Maharashtra Government in the SC that the necessary number of trees have already been cut," the Lok Sabha member from Baramati tweeted.
"I condemn the act of state government to start felling of trees in the night last week. The final decision was not even out but still the government rushed for axing the trees," she added.
Chavan also hit out at the Devendra Fadnavis-led state government over the cutting of trees in Aarey. "The Supreme Court's order is a "tight slap on the face of BJP-Shiv Sena government that has tried to suppress the voice of the common man and activists protesting against Aarey tree felling," the senior Congress leader said.
Prof Avkash Jadhav, head of the history department at St Xavier's College here and trustee of the city-based KAASH Foundation, welcomed the court's decision and demanded a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into cutting of trees at night last Friday.
"An SIT should be set up to inspect the site of Aarey now and identify the actual damage done," said Jadhav, who last month helped students of his college to write a letter to British adventurer Bear Grylls for seeking his support to stop felling of trees in the Aarey Colony.
The team should comprise activists and environmental experts from other states and members from non-governmental bodies, he said.
"We demand strong action against the MMRCL authorities and all those who took the cover of darkness at night to arbitrarily cut trees on October 4," he said.
Jadhav said MMRCL's Managing Director Ashwini Bhide take responsibility "for acting to be a proactive project director of performing her duties of axing the trees at night".
In its restraining order, the apex court said will have to examine the entire thing, and posted the matter for hearing on October 21 before its forest bench.
Jadhav said by October 21, the Maharashtra government and the MMRCL should give a detailed account to the Supreme Court of how they allegedly "used the state machinery against its own citizens, crushing all civil liberties under the guise of development".
He said Bhide claimed that the order to cut trees was released on September 13, which gave the authorities 15 days to take action.
"But, if the matter was subjudice and came before the Bombay High Court on October 4,is it not contempt of court to come with the axing notification before the high court's decision was out?" he asked.
Tasmeen Shaikh, member of the Aarey conservation group, said, "Every time the MMRCL came up with some defence for setting up the car shed project of Metro-3 at Aarey land, we countered it logically."
The MMRCL later removed its "lame defence" from its website to avoid controversy, she claimed.
"I feel the only defence left with the MMRCL for pushing the Metro-3 car shed in Aarey is that the site is good according to 'Vastu Shastra'," she said sarcastically.
The MMRCL's "failure" to give a logical reason behind tree cutting for car shed is a classic example of "non- application of mind by our learned bureaucrats", she said.
The Metro authorities have defended tree felling by contending that it is restricted only to a small area in Aarey Colony, and is necessary to ensure a modern transport system for Mumbaikars. The proposed car shed for the Metro-3 line (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) will occupy 33 hectares.