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The Supreme Court of India has allowed Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRCL) to pursue its application before the Tree Authority to cut 84 trees at Aarey forest for the metro car shed project.

"The MMRCL should be permitted to pursue its application with the Tree Authority for felling 84 trees," the bench said and fixed the main pleas against the Metro project for final hearing in February next year.

The construction of Metro car shed at Aarey, a forested land adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, was one of the first decisions reversed by the Eknath Shinde government formed on 30 June this year.

Protesters have increasingly holding demonstration with ‘save Aarey Forest’ banners to prevent Metro Rail authorities to cut down trees to build a Metro car shed.

 A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Mumbai Metro, that the felling of 84 trees were needed for constructing ramps for the trains at the car shed.

"The MMRCL should be permitted to pursue its application with the Tree Authority for felling 84 trees," the bench said and fixed the main pleas against the Metro project for final hearing in February next year.

Environmentalists have warned that not only leopards, but many other animals and birds face the threat of losing their habitat and lives. 

They have also said that the Aarey forest cover is absolutely essential for the well-being of the Maharashtra's capital city. The forest has the potential to provide fresh air especially when air-pollution has become a particular menace. 

Cutting down trees in the Aarey forest would also mean increasing threat of man-animal conflict. Experts have noted that Aarey forest's ecosystem protects the diverse habitat which harbourssome endemic species. Also, there is an increasing threat of man-animal conflict if the Aarey cover is reduced. Activists have been calling for peaceful protests, saying that development and urbanisation can’t be at the cost of the environment

In August, former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had fervently appealed to the new government "not to stab Mumbai in its heart" by going ahead with the construction of the car shed at Aarey. After the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance came to power in 2019, the then CM Uddhav Thackeray had reversed the previous decision, shifting the Metro-3 car shed to a site in the Kanjurmarg eastern suburb, but it was embroiled in a legal dispute.

The Thackeray government had also declared Aarey as a reserved forest. Recently, CM Shinde and Fadnavis in their first cabinet meeting overturned the Thackeray-led government’s decision. On August 30, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited launched the trial run of the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro line-3 at Sariput Nagar in the Aarey Colony.

The controversy that gave rise to the ‘Save Aarey’ movement is steeped in 2014 when the then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan proposed a plan to build a facility for washing and maintaining Metro coaches for the 33.5-km underground Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro project at Aarey Milk Colony.

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