Activists and Opposition leaders in Maharashtra on Monday welcomed the Supreme Court’s stay order on cutting trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony area. They also criticised the authorities’ decision to start cutting trees to clear the space for a metro car shed on Saturday, PTI reported.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd officials had started razing the trees in the cover of darkness on Friday night, hours after the Bombay High Court had dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and activists challenging the decision to allow the cutting of 2,646 trees. Police arrested 29 people during the subsequent protests, and they were released on bail on Sunday.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule said the haste with which the government acted over the weekend in cutting the trees is condemnable. “The Supreme Court decision on #Aarey is welcome,” the Lok Sabha member from Baramati constituency said in a tweet. “However what is worrying is the admission of the Maharashtra government in the SC that the necessary number of trees have already been cut.”

Former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally Shiv Sena for the felling of the trees. “The Supreme Court’s order is a tight slap on the face of BJP-Shiv Sena government that has tried to suppress the voice of the common man and activists protesting against Aarey tree felling,” the senior Congress leader said.

BJP says will respect Supreme Court order

Meanwhile, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar refused to comment about the Supreme Court order. “The Supreme Court has given a decision on it, so I will not comment on the matter,” he said at a press conference in Delhi. “If you cut one tree, you plant and ensure the growth of five trees.”

He added that the green cover of the country has increased by 15,000 square kilometres in the last four years. “There are only a few countries in the world whose green cover has increased and those include India,” Javadekar said.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kirit Somaiya said the party has always respected the judiciary, Times Now reported. “When the facts pertaining to the development work and environment conservation done by MMRCL [Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd] is kept before the court on October 21, then I am sure the permission to work on Mumbai metro will be granted,” he said.

Shiv Sena welcomed the top court order and said it was a “moral victory” for environmentalists, PTI reported. The party spokesperson Maneesha Kayande blamed government’s “mistake” to not to declare Aarey as a forest. “The Supreme Court’s directives to maintain status quo at the Aarey site is a moral victory for environmentalists and citizens of Mumbai who are objecting to it,” Kayande said.

She also condemned authorities’ action to arrest those protesting the tree cutting. “Why is it so necessary for the state to suppress the voice of people,” she asked.

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The top court on Monday heard the case despite Dussehra holidays after a group of law students wrote to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asking him to intervene and stop the cutting of trees. “Don’t cut anything now,” the court told the authorities.

The matter will be taken up next by the forest bench of the Supreme Court on October 21.

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