- Mumbai Metro chief calls protests over cutting of trees "propaganda"
- Activists claim mandatory 15-day notice not served before trees were cut
- Ashwini Bhide says Tree Authority notice was published on September 13
The process of cutting nearly 3,000 trees in Aarey, which began under the cover of darkness on Friday night, is not illegal, Mumbai Metro chief Ashwini Bhide has claimed, labelling as "false propaganda" concerns that a mandatory 15-day notice period between grant of approval to cut trees and the actual cutting was not met. In a message posted on social media, Ms Bhide also referred to Friday's Bombay High Court order on the Aarey trees and hit out at activists continuing to oppose the cutting of trees, insisting that it was their actions that were "illegal".
"A new false propaganda is in the air that 15 days' notice is required after tree authority order getting uploaded on website. This is absolutely baseless. Tree Authority order is issued on 13th Sept 19. 15 days r over on 28th Sept. Action awaited till Hon HC verdict was out," Ashwini Bhide, Managing Director, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) said.
On September 17, when the Bombay High Court began hearing petitions challenging the cutting of Aarey trees, the petitioners' counsel made a similar observation, stating that the Tree Authority's order dated September 13 included a 15-day notice period that ended September 28.
On Friday the court cancelled those petitions and the process to raze the trees began mere hours later, leading to protests from activists who took to the streets in an attempt to stop the cutting. Several were detained and police cases were filed against 38 people. On Saturday morning Mumbai Police banned any gathering of four or more people.
In a strongly-worded tweet, Ashwini Bhide labelled the activists' actions as "foul" and urged them to pay heed to the court's order.
"Hon. Bombay HC has dismissed all petitions in unequivocally clear terms 2de. But sm people consider themselves superior 2 Judiciery as well. While their own actions r illegal they city foul. If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to street," Ms Bhide, who last month said Aarey was best suited on "technical grounds".
Hon. Bombay HC has dismissed all petitions in unequivocally clear terms 2de. But sm people consider themselves superior 2 Judiciery as well. While their own actions r illegal they city foul. If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to street.— Ashwini Bhide (@AshwiniBhide) October 4, 2019
However, the activists continue to insist that the cutting of trees is wrong and illegal.
In a statement to the press, they refer to the (Urban Area) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975 that says cutting of trees in an urban area can only take place 15 days after a permission letter is published in the public domain.
"... permission for tree cutting of Aarey metro 3 Car shed depot was uploaded on MCGM website on 4th October 2019 evening and tree cutting began the same night. The courts are shut for the weekend and then for Dussehra. We need time to challenge this in court, which we will not have and by the time courts reopen, the forest will be gone," the statement read.
The statement also referred to a High Court order from September 2013 that said permission letters needed to be published on the Tree Authority website and argued that letters published on other websites were, therefore, invalid.
The activists also claimed that a Tree Authority officer was not present on Friday night, in violation of a June 2017 direction from the High Court to the MMRCL.
The Aarey protest has become a big issue in Mumbai, with actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar supporting the government and others like politician Yogendra Yadav and actor Swara Bhasker supporting the activists.