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National Green Tribunal says can’t declare Mumbai’s Aarey a forest

Three years after filing a plea in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to oppose the construction of the car shed for Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ) at Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon, environment group Vanashakti withdrew the petition on Thursday, after being told by the tribunal that the case would be dismissed as “only a high or Supreme Court could give them relief”. The petitioner plans to move the SC at the earliest.

In June 2015, Vanashakti and another citizens’ association, Aarey Conservation Group, filed a petition with NGT’s western bench in Pune against the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), seeking that Aarey be designated as a forest and construction of the 33-hectare car shed be carried out elsewhere.

The construction of the Metro-3 car shed would lead to destruction of 3,000 trees.

“NGT observed the primary plea of the applicants was to declare Aarey a forest and identify the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). As the union environment ministry declared the ESZ in December 2016, which excluded land earmarked for car depot in Aarey, the plea was no more valid,” said Kiran Bhagalia, counsel for MMRC.

The petitioners said the matter was disposed of within 10 minutes.

“NGT expressed helplessness as it does not have powers under the NGT Act. It has not said anything about clearing construction for the Metro car shed project,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti and petitioner in the matter.

The tribunal also lifted the stay on debris dumping, tree felling and land reclamation at Aarey, issued as an interim order by the principal bench of NGT on May 14, allowing all construction activity.

“With this order, all legal hurdles are cleared and car depot works can progress in full swing,” said Ashwini Bhide, managing director, MMRC.


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