MUMBAI: The Aarey area, at the centre of a raging protest over felling of trees for a Mumbai metro depot, cannot be given a forest tag "just because it has greenery", the Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Thursday.
Government counsels Ashutosh Kumbhakoni and Anil Sakhare made this submission while seeking dismissal of a petition filed by an NGO named Vanshakti, which demanded that the Aarey area in suburban Goregaon be declared a forest and an ecologically-sensitive zone.
Activists are opposing the proposed felling of over 2,600 trees in Aarey to make way for the metro car shed and demanding relocation of the depot, which is part of the Metro III project.
"Aarey cannot be declared as forest just because there is greenery there. Aarey was formed in the past as a milk colony and to keep cattle and horse stables," Sakhare told a division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre.
Kumbhakoni told the court that another bench of the high court had in October last year dismissed a similar petition filed by an activist, Zoru Bathena, seeking forest tag for Aarey.
In the petition, Bathena had challenged the proposed construction of a Metro car shed at Aarey.
"The high court bench, while rejecting that petition, noted that it was erroneous to term Aarey a forest," Kumbhakoni said.
An appeal against this order of the high court has been filed in the Supreme Court, where it is pending hearing, the government counsel said.
"Let the apex court decide the issue now. The high court has already given its verdict. When the matter has been already heard and concluded by the high court, it need not be entertained again," Kumbhakoni argued.
On a query made by the court earlier on whether the proposed Metro car shed could be constructed in suburban Kanjurmarg instead of Aarey, Kumbhakoni said the land being talked about was not available for the project due to "technical reasons".
Another government counsel, Shrihari Aney, told the court that even assuming the land at Kanjurmarg was available, it would "not be possible" to construct the proposed Metro car shed there.
"The said car shed is for the Metro III line connecting Colaba in south Mumbai to Seepz in the western suburbs," Aney said.
"Hence, the car shed needs to be in Aarey. It is not feasible to have the car shed at Kanjurmarg which is located kilometers away (from Aarey)."
The Aarey colony, measuring 1,287 hectares and located adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is known as a major green lung of the metropolis.
Several Bollywood personalities and politicians have also extended their support to the activists protesting against the feeling of trees in Aarey.