The Bombay High Court on Wednesday put a stay on an order granting possession of a land in Mumbai’s Kanjurmarg area to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority for the metro rail project in the city, Bar and Bench reported. The decision is a setback for the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra which had in October, shifted the car shed for the metro project to Kanjurmag from Aarey Colony, the area chosen by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

A bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and GS Kulkarni asked the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to maintain status quo on the land till the Centre’s plea claiming title rights over the property was heard, reported Bar and Bench.

Maharashtra Tourism and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray said that the Kanjurmarg land was crucial for the metro project, and would save Rs 5,500 crore for the state government.

On October 11, Thackeray had announced that 800 acres of land in the Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai would be declared a reserve forest and that the car shed for the metro project in the area would be relocated to Kanjurmarg.

Following this, the Centre’s Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade had written to the Maharashtra government in November, instructing it to stop developing the car shed. The letter stated that the 102-acre land at Kanjurmarg under the salt commissioner, who reports to the department.

Aarey project

One of the first decisions taken by Uddhav Thackeray, after being sworn in as head of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government last year, was to stop work on the Aarey car shed. The government also appointed a committee to study feasibility of the project. In September, the government had announced that 600 acres of land in the area would be declared a forest.

The proposal to build a metro rail car shed on 30 hectares of the Aarey Colony land had faced stiff opposition from concerned citizens, who wanted to protect Mumbai’s last green lung from concretisation. In October 2019, 38 people were booked in connection with the protests against the authorities’ move to cut trees, even as the Bombay High Court dismissed a series of petitions to stop the work and give it the status of a forest.

While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited – the agency implementing the metro project – claimed it would compensate by planting thrice as many saplings elsewhere, protestors demanded that the car shed be shifted to an alternative site. Till October 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the car shed.

The Supreme Court had intervened in the case after a group of law students wrote to the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.