Mumbai: Over 1,000 trees were felled in north Mumbai’s Aarey colony on Saturday for a Metro rail project despite vociferous protests as clashes broke out between the police and green activists, leading to arrest of at least 29 persons.
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. Activists tried to get relief from the Bombay High Court, by approaching the court again on Saturday and seeking a stay to tree cutting, so that they could approach the Supreme Court. But the bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and AK Menon, who granted the petitioners an urgent hearing in the chamber, refused to grant a stay.
Apart from the 29 arrested, 55 were also detained, including NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad, Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi, Sena leader and former Mayor Shubha Raul, from the protest site.
The protests began on Friday evening when MMRCL, within hours of the High Court dismissing four petitions challenging the permission granted by the civic body's tree authority to fell about 2700 trees, started the tree cutting under the cover of darkness.
Opposition parties slammed the ruling Sena-BJP, stating they failed to save the trees. Sena leaders Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya also criticised the MMRCL and backed the protesters.
At least 38 protesters were booked under IPC sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from duty) and 143 (unlawful assembly). "There is a heavy police deployment in the area. No one is allowed to enter Aarey Colony. Even tourists are being stopped," said an activist.
"We have arrested 29 protesters. Six of them are women. Some of them had manhandled and beaten the police personnel deployed in Aarey Colony and obstructed them from discharging their duty," a police official said.
On Friday night, around 200 people gathered and started protesting near Picnic Point in the colony, he said. "While the protests were on, a group of people roughed up two police personnel, who sustained injuries," he said. A case was registered under IPC sections 332, 353 (assaulting a public servant) on complaint of a 28-year-old woman police constable who was injured in the attack.
Some protesters alleged that the women protesters were manhandled by male police officers who bundled them into police vans. Mumbai Police spokesperson denied it.
At least 55 people were detained after clashes broke out between the police and green activists on Saturday.
In a tweet, Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi said, "I have been forcibly evicted by the cops and I wasn't even breaking the law! The cops in the car won’t even tell me where I am being taken ... this is insane @MumbaiPolice."
"This matter is going to be heard by the National Green Tribunal on October 10, and we hope to get some respite there. But it seems the authorities want to eliminate the entire green patch before the hearing," Stalin D, one of the activists, said.
Aaditya Thackeray, who is contesting the October 21 Maharashtra assembly election from Worli in south-central Mumbai, extended his support to the protesters. "The vigour with which the Mumbai metro 3 is slyly and swiftly cutting down an ecosystem in aarey is shameful and disgusting. How about posting these officials in POK (Pak Occupied Kashmir) giving them charge to destroy terror camps rather than trees?" he asked.
Opposition NCP and Congress targeted the ruling Shiv Sena and BJP, saying they failed to save trees in Aarey. "Where were fake environment lovers, who championed ban on plastic, when the tree felling started?" NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik asked, tagging Aaditya Thackeray and the BJP.
"It is not right to talk about climate change on one hand and to cut down trees silently in the night on the other. @CMOMaharashtra it was expected of you to come forward to save Mumbai's lungs by keeping aside the ego," NCP MP Supriya Sule tweeted.
"This is the time @ShivSena. You are in the government, can stop this. The Mahayuti (mega alliance) is more important or the mega loss of trees?" Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant tweeted.
Several Bollywood actors, including Farhan Akhtar, Dia Mirza and Swara Bhasker, have condemned the felling of trees in Aarey Colony, being carried out to make way for a Metro carshed
400 trees have been cut in the dead of the night. As citizens sang and joined hands in unity pleading to STOP this massacre. Can’t you see they are UNITED by love!?! Love for nature. Love for our children and our future. #Aarey #ClimateAction #ActNow #ChangeIsComing pic.twitter.com/7XCwSeaqDT— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) October 5, 2019
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government did not wish to cut a single tree, but development is also important. “We will plant more trees to replace those cut down," he said, adding that he will speak to Aaditya Thackeray in this regard.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar also defended the felling of trees and said trees were also chopped for Delhi Metro. "There was a need to fell 20 to 25 trees for setting up the first metro station in Delhi and then also people had similarly opposed it. But for each tree that was cut five saplings were planted," he said.
Javadekar said the forest cover in the national capital has increased since then and public transport system has also improved. "This is the mantra of 'vikas bhi, paryavaran ki suraksha bhi' (development with environment protection)," the BJP leader said.
As the tree cutting began hours after the high court dismissed green brigade's petitions, social media was abuzz with messages slamming the Metro authorities.
MMRCL chief Ashwini Bhide defending the felling of trees, said that action was taken only after the Bombay High Court quashed the four petitions and fined them for being frivolous.
#MMRC has planted 24000 trees & committed to plant more. Join us to #PlantATree while we build @MumbaiMetro3 to provide you with safer, faster & comfortable commute that will reduce #Pollution and #TrafficCongestion. Let us #MakeMumbaiGreen @mybmc @CMOMaharashtra @anandmahindra pic.twitter.com/Yogkaih1j8— Ashwini Bhide (@AshwiniBhide) September 20, 2019
The MMRCL said tree felling by contending that it restricted only to a small area in Aarey Colony, and it 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.