The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd on Friday told the Supreme Court that no trees have been cut in Mumbai's Aarey colony after October 2019.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for MMRCL, told a bench headed by Justice UU Lalit that he had made a statement before the apex court in 2019 that no further cutting of trees will be done for a metro car shed in Aarey colony and after that, no trees have been cut there.
"There is a statement which I had made that there will not be any further cutting of trees and I have filed an affidavit today that thereafter, there has never been any cutting of trees," Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and SR Bhat.
The top court was hearing an application that alleged that authorities have resumed cutting down trees in the Aarey colony.
Mehta said some bushes were there on the ground which have been cleared and some branches were trimmed so that vehicles could pass on an approach road there.
"That trimming took place. That is what I have said on the affidavit. No tree cutting is going on," he said.
While taking the affidavit on record, the bench said pending further consideration, no specific interim directions are called for in view of the stand taken in the affidavit filed on behalf of the corporation.
"Suffice it to say that as stated by the concerned respondent, no further trees have been cut since the order dated October 7, 2019, and shall not be cut in any manner till the next date of hearing," the bench said while posting the matter for hearing on August 10.
The apex court in 2019 had taken suo motu cognisance of a letter petition addressed to the then Chief Justice of India by a law student seeking a stay on the felling of trees in the Aarey colony.
The top court had restrained the authorities from cutting any more trees in the Aarey colony after the solicitor general had submitted on behalf of the state of Maharashtra that no further trees will be cut.
The felling of trees in the colony has been opposed by green activists and residents.
During the hearing on Friday, the counsel appearing for the applicant said some interim protection was required in the matter.
He referred to the facts of the matter and said a statement was made earlier by the solicitor general before the court that no trees will be cut there.
The counsel said the Maharashtra government has now decided to have the metro shed at Aarey.
The bench observed that a hearing in the matter pending in the apex court was required and it can say that the status quo as of today be maintained till the matter is heard.
When Mehta referred to the affidavit and said there has never been any cutting of trees after he had made the statement before the court in October 2019, the bench observed it would go by his statement that not a single tree will be cut till the matter is disposed of.
The solicitor general said he would be able to clarify the issue which is being wrongly projected before the court.
He said during the period when the project remained dormant, some weeds and bushes had grown on the ground which was cleared.
"There is an approach road. In the approach road, there were some branches which required trimming, no cutting of trees, so that vehicles can pass," he said, adding if the court would like further details, he would take instructions.
Mehta said inaccurate statements coming from the public interest litigants leave a "bad taste" in the mouth.
The bench observed that there are certain advantages of having public interest litigation and the court would deal with the facts.
During the hearing, Justice Lalit pointed out that when he was a lawyer, he had assisted the top court as an amicus curiae in the TN Godavarman Thirumulpad matter, which relates to the conservation of forests.
"No. I don't see any conflict of interest," Mehta said when Justice Lalit asked him about this.
The Bombay high court in October 2019 refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation's decision to allow the felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro car shed.