The Maharashtra government on Thursday told the Bombay High Court that the Aarey area in North Mumbai cannot be given the status of a forest, PTI reported. Government counsels Ashutosh Kumbhakoni and Anil Sakhare made the submission while seeking dismissal of a plea by non-governmental organisation Vanashakti.

On August 29, the government had decided to cut 2,700 trees on 30 hectares of Aarey land to make way for a metro car shed. This led to protests in Mumbai over the last few weeks. While, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited – the agency implementing the metro project – claimed that it will compensate by planting three times as many saplings elsewhere, protesters have demanded that the car shed be shifted to an alternate site.

“Aarey cannot be declared as forest just because there is greenery there,” Sakhare told the Bombay High Court on Thursday. “Aarey was formed in the past as a milk colony and to keep cattle and horse stables.”

Kumbhakoni, on the other hand, told the court that it had in October last year dismissed a similar petition to declare Aarey a forest. He added that an appeal against this order of the High Court had been pending in the Supreme Court.

“Let the top court decide the issue now,” Kumbhakoni said. “The High Court has already given its verdict. When the matter has been already heard and concluded by the high court, it need not be entertained again.”

Kumbhakoni also said that the land in Kanjurmarg for the proposed metro car shed was unavailable for technical reasons. Another government counsel, Shrihari Aney, told the court that even if the land were available, it would not be possible to build the car shed there.

Protests outside Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow

Meanwhile, protesters demonstrating against the project camped outside actor Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow in Juhu for the second straight day, India Today reported on Thursday. Earlier this week, Bachchan had tweeted in support of the project. The police detained at least 22 students who were sitting outside the actor’s residence. The students, under the banner of Vidhyarthi Bharatiya Sanghatna, carried posters calling for saving the Aarey forest.

Other protestors, under the banner of the Watchdog Foundation, were led by former Congress legislator Nicholas Almeida. They said they were at the spot to gift oxygen cylinders to Bachchan. The demonstrators had used plastic bottles, making them appear like oxygen masks.

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