Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Thursday stood firm on its claim that Aarey is not a forest. Instead, it is an open forest land which was never protected, it claimed. (An open forest is one with a tree cover of canopy density between 10% and 40%)
The government has further said that Aarey cannot be declared a forest just because it has some greenery and a few species of flora and fauna.
Advocate General Ashuto-sh Kumbhakoni told the bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre that neither the government, nor the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited, were against environment.
“We are not looking at this petition in an adverse manner because we are not against the environment. But we also cannot tolerate any baseless or wrong contentions made by anyone accusing us of being against the greenery,” AG Kumbhakoni submitted.
The AG further informed the court that another bench led by Justice Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari had in October 2018 passed a detailed judgment with a finding that Aarey cannot be categorised as a forest.
“There is already a finding in this matter, wherein Justice Dharmadhikari has specifically said that Aarey cannot be deemed as a forest as the notification of 2016, which deleted it from an unclassified forest category, has not been challenged by anyone,” AG pointed out.
“Thus, there is no point reopening an already concluded issue. Now that these activists have moved the Supreme Court challenging Justice Dharmadhikari’s order, let the apex court decide the issue. Till then, this court should not exercise its jurisdiction,” the AG argued.
Also, appearing for the government and the MMRCL, senior counsel Anil Sakhare urged the bench of CJ Nandrajog not to entertain the petition filed by NGO Vanshakti seeking a declaration that Aarey is a forest.
“Initially, Aarey was formed only to bring all the milkmen and their business under one roof. Thus, several cattle and horses along with these milkmen were shifted to Aarey, which was deemed to be a milk colony. Even today there are more than 16,000 cattle at Aarey,” Sakhre submitted.
During the course of the hearing, Sakhare further highlighted the fact that out of the total 1280 hectares of land at Aarey, at least 521 hectares have been allotted to 24 establishments like police station, hospitals, schools and colleges, hostels etc.
“There is already some development in Aarey, as there are roads and these establishments. Also, their claim that Mithi river is a natural one is baseless; in fact, people dump debris and other waste into it,” Sakhre informed the bench.
Having heard the submissions, CJ Nandrajog reserved the judgment; he, however, clarified that he would pronounce the judgement only after hearing another batch of petitions filed by activist Zoru Bhathena challenging the orders of the civic body’s Tree Authority permitting the MMRCL to cut down 2180 trees, to pave the way for the Metro III car shed.