State-owned construction company NBCC told the Delhi High Court on Monday that it will not cut any more trees in the Capital till July 4, PTI reported. NBCC (India) Ltd, formerly called the National Buildings Construction Corporation, has been tasked with developing some of the seven South Delhi colonies for which thousands of trees need to be axed.

Around 16,500 trees are likely to be axed in areas like Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagraj Nagar, Mohammadpur and Kasturba Nagar in South Delhi. Of these, 1,500 trees have already been felled, according to media reports.

The NBCC made the statement after the court seemed inclined to stay the felling of trees till July 4. It had initially asked the NBCC to “stay its hands” till July 2, when a similar petition will be heard by the National Green Tribunal.

“Can Delhi afford cutting of trees for the development of roads and buildings?” the High Court asked NBCC. The court will hear the matter again on July 4.

A petition by a surgeon, Kaushal Kant Mishra, had challenged the environmental clearance given to the housing projects in South Delhi. On Friday, the court had refused to order a stay on the felling of trees, and had issued notices to the Centre, NBCC, Central Public Works Department and Delhi Pollution Control Committee, The Hindu reported.

“We have taken permission from Forest and Environment Department, Delhi government, to cut 1,400 trees in Nauroji Nagar and 2,200 trees in Netaji Nagar,” the NBCC told ANI on Monday evening, adding that the trees were being cut to make the basement. “Estimation of trees in other colonies is still being done.”

The organisation also claimed: “We are not restricting ourselves to planting 2,500 to 4,000 saplings before cutting the trees, as has been asked by the government. We are instead looking at planting at least twice the number asked by them.”

On Sunday, Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said trees would not be axed as long as he was a minister. Puri has been facing criticism for the central government’s plan.

“For every tree that is cut we will plant 10 trees,” Puri told ANI. “Green cover will go up by three times after re-development of seven colonies in South Delhi. Young activists are too fast to blame.”

Puri has faced backlash on Twitter with several users questioning his move to justify the chopping down of trees. “If this band of trolls was so concerned about citizens then it should certainly have raised its concern on the dilapidated condition of [Delhi Transport Corporation] and total absence of buses,” he tweeted. “I request citizens to check the facts [and] not be misled by these mischief mongers.”

Local residents and environment activists have staged protests against the decision to cut trees, pointing out that the move could further deteriorate the air quality in the city. They say that planting saplings cannot replace fully-grown trees.

About 1,500 people have taken to tree-hugging protests in Sarojini Nagar, launching their own version of the “Chipko Movement” of the 1970s when people held on tight to trees to prevent them from being chopped in Uttarakhand, reported NDTV.

The Aam Aadmi Party-led state government has blamed Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal for giving the approval to cut trees. “Delhi’s Environment and Forest Minister Imran Hussain had raised objections since the removal of so many trees would be detrimental to the environment and also lead to congestion as the new high-rise buildings would have so many more residents,” said AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj.