Supreme Court sets up special bench, to hear Aarey plea today

The issue has also taken a political turn just two weeks ahead of state elections, with BJP ally Shiv Sena opposing the Metro move

A special Bench of the Supreme Court will Monday hear a plea seeking stay on the cutting of over 2,600 trees in a portion of land in Mumbai s Aarey for the construction of a Metro Rail car shed. The Special Bench was set up Sunday after a law student sent a letter to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. An official notification said the letter has been registered as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), and that the matter will be heard at 10 am. In Mumbai, meanwhile, a holiday sessions court granted bail to 29 people arrested Saturday for protesting the cutting of trees for the project. The issue has also taken a political turn just two weeks ahead of state elections, with BJP ally Shiv Sena opposing the Metro move. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) has said that only two per cent of Aarey land will be used. The tree-cutting began amid protests Friday night after the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition challenging the corporation s decision to allow felling of 2,185 trees and transplantation of 460 for the project. Sunday s letter, signed by Rishav Ranjan, a fourth-year student from Greater Noida, stated: ...the Car Shed is sought to be located in 33 hectare land at Aarey. This is on the banks of the Mithi River and which has channels and tributaries flowing to it and emptying in the river. Its absence can flood Mumbai... The question is why should a forest which has 3,500 trees in it on the banks of a river be the chosen site for a polluting industry? Seeking a stay, the letter urged the Chief Justice of India to treat it as a petition as by the time an appeal is filed in the Hon ble Supreme Court (against the Bombay High Court order), we feel the part of Aarey will be cleared with all trees leading to irrevocable loss On Friday, while rejecting the plea by an activist and an NGO, which wanted Aarey to be declared a forest, the Bombay High Court asked them to approach the Supreme Court for relief. Aarey tree-cutting: Technical panel had rejected plot suggested by Waikar

At a protest outside High Court. (Express photo: Ganesh Shirsekar)

Hours after the High Court dismissed the petition, between 100 and 200 protesters gathered at the Picnic Point in Aarey Colony between 8.30 pm and 11 pm. In the melee that followed, police claimed, several protesters entered the site and allegedly assaulted a police inspector and a male constable The letter to the Chief Justice of India claimed that activists, including students, had organised a peaceful vigil against the actions of the corporation and Mumbai Metro but were detained. Those who tried to protest were charged with a non-bailable offence and abused and manhandled by Mumbai police , it claimed Ranjan, 21, is a student of Lloyd Law College his Twitter handle describes him as the general secretary of Youth for Swaraj, which is linked to Swaraj Abhiyan of former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav Speaking to The Indian Express, Ranjan said that two of his friends, Shruti Nair and Kapil Agarwal, were among the 29 people arrested during the protests Saturday. I have been involved in many environmental issues, and was keeping track of Aarey through my friends in Mumbai. My petition is an independent petition asking the court to stop the destruction in Aarey, he said. Read | Opposition to take up Aarey, corner Aaditya Thackeray in Worli Ranjan said his petition also seeks a response from authorities on the number of trees cut in Aarey In the letter, he urged the court to protect Aarey without getting into technicalities as there was no time for preparation of proper appeal petition and and cover the scars of these young activists who are responsible citizens standing for serious environmental concerns (With inputs from Laxman Singh, Mumbai)