The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited to approach civic authorities for permission to cut 84 trees in the city’s Aarey Colony, PTI reported.

The MMRCL said that it needs to cut the trees to enable the construction of ramps for the trains at the metro car shed.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha allowed the authority to approach the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority, Live Law reported. The court allowed the Tree Authority to decide on the MMRCL’s application by imposing any conditions that may be suitable.

The bench noted that the Bombay High Court had prima facie held the felling of trees as well as the decision to move the car shed to Aarey Colony to be legally valid.

“In such projects involving large outlay of public funds, the court cannot be oblivious of the serious dislocations caused if the public investment which goes into the project is disregarded,” the judges said. “Undoubtedly, the concerns relating to environment are important, as all development must be sustainable.”

During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the original total cost of the project was Rs 23,000 crore, and that it had increased to Rs 37,000 crore due to litigation. He said that the construction of the metro project would reduce vehicular traffic, and thus cut down carbon emissions.

On the other hand, senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, appearing for a group of activists, told the court that the figure of Rs 23,000 crore represents the cost of the entire project, and not just the car shed. He also referred to committee reports that said that a site in Mumbai’s Kanjurmarg area was a more suitable spot for the car shed.

The dispute

In October 2019, the Supreme Court had ordered a status quo on the project after a group of law students wrote to Ranjan Gogoi, who was then the chief justice of India, asking him to intervene and stop the cutting of trees in what is considered the last remaining green lung of Mumbai.

In November 2019, the Maharashtra government, led by Uddhav Thackeray, had stopped work on the Aarey car shed. On October 11, 2020, Thackeray had announced that 800 acres of land in the Aarey Colony would be declared a reserve forest and that the car shed for the metro project in the area would be relocated to Kanjurmarg.

However, after Eknath Shinde took over as the new chief minister of Maharashtra in July, heoverturned Thackeray’s decision to shift the Metro-3 car shed out of the Aarey Colony.