Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar today declined to shed light on the controversy over cutting of trees in Mumbai's Aarey Colony to make space for a car shed of the Mumbai Metro.
Citing a Supreme Court order today that no more trees should be cut till October 21 when the environment bench hears the case, Mr Javadekar deflected questions from reporters on the way forward for Aarey, where any gathering of four or more people are banned by the police to prevent trouble.
"I am not taking any question on Aarey today because the Supreme Court has given an order. The policy and the practice is if you fell one tree, you plant and ensure the growth of five trees," the Environment Minister told reporters.
The court order Mr Javadekar referred to was given by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi today in response to a letter by a group of law students, who sought the Chief Justice's invention to stop the Mumbai civic agency from cutting the trees.
The students wrote to the Chief Justice as Mumbai civic authorities took a Bombay High Court order as sanction to start removing trees on Friday. The High Court had refused to declare Aarey a forest area and dismissed petitions against cutting of over 2,600 trees for the metro.
Late on Friday night, activists protested loudly as the trees came down; the police used batons on those who tried to hug the trees to stop the action. Activists claim around 2,000 trees were cut that night.
The Maharashtra government said no more trees are needed to be cut at Aarey. "What is required to be cut has been cut. No further cutting of trees is required," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court today on behalf of the Maharashtra government.
Mr Javadekar has backed the tree-cutting drive at Aarey. He gave the example of the Delhi Metro network - one of the world's best public transport systems - for which trees had to be cut, but which eventually made commute safer and comfortable.
"When the first Delhi Metro station was constructed, 20-25 trees were cut down. People then protested against it. Today, it is the best metro across the world," Mr Javadekar said on Sunday. "The metro has planted five trees for every single tree that it has taken down. Now, there are 271 stations. Forest undercover area has increased in Delhi. Thirty lakh people are using the metro as public transport. This is the mantra of development and protecting the environment. Both should go together," he said.
Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon which has more than five lakh trees, together with Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is known as the green lung of Mumbai.