On Friday 4th October 2019 the Bombay High Court declared its Judgement in the various litigation filed challenging the construction of a car shed in the Aarey Milk Colony for the new Metro infrastructure Project. This Project is massive and should transform public transport in Mumbai. The construction of the car shed would entail the cutting of several fully-grown trees. In case you are living in the dark ages, the Bombay High Court did not grant any relief to the Petitioners. Hence, from Friday 4th October, post the Judgement, thru until Monday morning, in a systematic, well-co-ordinated, cold blooded efficient movement, all the arms of the Government and bureaucracy organised cutting down of some 2141 trees.
The media, social, print, television was ablaze. Peoples passions were at a zenith. All kinds of opinions were bandied about from, blaming the BJP, to you cannot cut trees at night, to pending proceedings in the Supreme Court, thieves in the night, and many many more.
I can say with a fair degree of certainty that a very small number of people would have even bothered to read the well-reasoned 39-page Judgement. What was more disturbing, in my view, was the subsequent Judgement also by the Bombay High Court, rejecting an application to stay operation of the original 39-page Judgement. This subsequent judgement only further exposes how poorly advised the Petitioners were. I am unsure if the Petitioners -effectively D Stalin and Zoru Bhathena - were poorly advised or simply so bloody egotistical that they refused to listen to sage advice. My reason for this rather provocative conclusion arises, firstly, from two passages in the Judgements and secondly, from the fact that no big name brand Senior Counsel appeared for the Petitioners in this litigation. Surprising indeed.
I am reproducing these two passages. However, I really and earnestly urge you to read the original Judgement. It is illuminating in many ways. The link is here.
The two passages are reproduced under. The first is the passage from the original Judgement.
“29. Repeatedly, Davids (environmentalist) take on industrial Goliath's. Relationship with nature and love for environment alone is true and all other relationships are unreal and temporary, is their belief. Their hearts are a temple of devotion to flora and fauna. In the instant case, the Davids row their boat with faith, courage and devotion in the storm of development; but directionless. The Greens fail in the instant petition because they have lost touch with the procedure to be followed as per law.”
In the original fable, David won. Here, unfortunately that was not the case.
As I have written, the Judgement was declared on Friday 4th October 2019. On Saturday 5th October 2019, on a holiday a Bench of the Bombay High Court was specially constituted to hear an urgent plea for stay of the Judgement declared on 4th October 2019. Who should appear for the Petitioners in a matter of such utmost importance? Ms. Sonal. Alas, poor Ms. Sonal has not been graced with a surname. Ever heard of her? While that may be shocking, do read the two paragraphs extracted from the Special Bench order. More shocking. You can read this short Judgement here.
“6. Having noted the rival contentions, we are of the firm opinion that the petitioners attempted to question the tree cutting at the site in not one, but two legal proceedings. The Division Bench has followed another order dated 25th October, 2018 rendered in the writ petitions, one of which was also by Mr.Zoru Darayus Bhathena. Now, in the second round, all the petitions are dismissed by the detailed judgments dated 4th October, 2019. Once all the substantive proceedings are dismissed, it would not be proper to pass any restraint order and merely on a praceipe.
7. There is nothing on record to show that any request was made to stay the operation, implementation and enforcement of the judgment and order, nor any specific restraint was sought. We cannot proceed on any oral understanding. Merely because another Bench is constituted, it would not be proper to grant any relief. The nature of the relief is such that if it is granted, that would directly contravene the observations, findings and conclusions in the detailed judgment.
8. Hence, the request is refused.”
Now do you get why I ask if the Petitioners were poorly advised or simply so bloody egotistical?
One last point. In a previous litigation on the same subject, the Bombay High Court passed a detailed Order among other things expressly directing the planting of trees. I reproduce that passage. Makes interesting reading.
“(1) Open area shown on the Part Plan of proposed modification shall be kept open and it shall be binding to conserve the trees on part of the said land permanently.
(2) To mitigate the environmental impact to Aarey Colony following measures shall be undertaken:
i) Ground water recharging arrangements to be provided in the Depot.
ii) Plantation of Trees as per recommendation of the Committee
iii) Trees above 10 feet height of native variety only be planted.
iv) Plantation to be undertaken by professional agencies only.
v) Annual Audit of plantation by Third Party and Reports posted on the Company's website. vi) MMRC to maintain these trees for 5 years.
(3) Total 33 Hectors of land shall be used only for Metro Car Depot/ Workshop, allied users only. Commercial user shall not be permitted.”
If this was already ordered by the Bombay High Court, and this order was in full force did the Petitioners challenge once again out of stubbornness, ill advise or ego? I leave it to you to decide.
My personal view is that of course cutting of trees should not be permitted. By the same token, of course the Metro should be established. If various experts have decided that the Car Shed for the Metro should be at place X necessitating cutting of trees then, so be it. Undoubtedly, replacement trees have to be planted. The amazing thing is that an order to plant trees was already in place. I would have been happy if the Petitioners had instead asked for strict implementation of that order instead of making such an unholy mess.
Anyway, so much for legal niceties.
As things happened, we were in Hyderabad over the weekend of 5th and 6th October. And, Hyderabad has a Metro. A good one. The Queen of Kutch and I travelled on it and it was a most pleasant experience. Air conditioned, clean, and quick. Rs. 40 for the journey we took. Oh yes, there are actually fully functioning escalators to take you from street level to the Metro Station some 30 - 50 feet up. Escalators work in Hyderabad, unlike in Mumbai.
A couple we know, after years of corporate jobs, bought an 11 acre plot some 50 kms outside Hyderabad. The land was rocky and had no ground water. At first, they constructed some outhouses, then their home, and now work is feverishly on to establish a petting farm an eco resort, with cottages, tents and dormitories, a central dining facility a library and what not. The construction is being done by compressed stabilised earth blocks made on site, sustainably. The ultimate goal is to give back, get green, organic, educate, and be nice to nature. Very noble. I could never be like that. They call their property Arbor Road Estate. Here is their link, have a look.
What truly astounded me was the mini forest. Some of you readers may be aware of the Miyawaki Method. This is an exceptionally successful mini forest grown by Arbor Road Estate following the Miyawaki Method. Miyawaki Akira is a Japanese Botanist. Under the "Miyawaki method" he demonstrated that it is possible to restore native forests from seeds of native trees on very degraded soils which were deforested, without humus. Humus is the organic component of soil formed by the decomposition of leaves and plant material by soil micro-organisms. Humus is not the chick pea paste you lather on your Sharwama! There is a huge amount of science that goes into the Miyawaki Method. The method postulates planting native trees very densely. At Arbor Road Estate in 2015 they planted some 6600 trees. In 2016 a further 1800. In addition, they planted in excess of 3000 landscape and fruit bearing trees. All in all, there are about 12,000 trees planted in 4 years. Of these more than 8000 trees are densely planted in 35,000 square feet.
Arbor Estate took technical assistance from a for profit, yes a for profit organisation called Afforestt. which helps create forests using the Miyawaki Method. You could read more about Afforestt here.
What Arbor Road Estate has done in just 4 years is truly awe inspiring. The trees in just four years are tall and lush and some are towering at over 30 feet. The wooded area is a haven for all kinds of wildlife. Today, as a result of the mini forest, the rain on the land has increased. They have harvested over 40 lakh litres of water, enough water to sustain them for an entire year, The number and variety of birds has dramatically increased. Butterflies and all kinds of insects are happy among the trees. In fact, the couple has identified and photographed more than 45 species of migratory and native birds on the land.
The fruits are fantastic, and HRH the Queen of Kutch will vouch for the Custard Apples. Originally the land had a few Custard Apple trees, but over the last 4 years they have multiplied. No chemicals or fertilizer is used on the land. Arbor Road Estate has in fact changed, for the better, the eco system of the entire area. A look at the photographs will show you the progress.
The point I am trying to make is simply this. A couple with only commitment and little knowledge, has successfully planted on barren land 12,000 trees including 8,000 in just 35,000 square feet. What can be done in Aarey and a hundred other places by using the Miyawaki Method boggles my mind.
Do you know how many trees were cut in Aarey? 2141. These 2141 trees were in 33 hectares which is 35,52,090 square feet, yes 35 lakh square feet. I am assuming that the entire 33 hectares are now without trees, I may be wrong in that assumption. Arbor Road Estate has planted 8,000 trees in 35,000 square feet. Do you realise the significance?
I really don’t want to bleat on. What has happened in Aarey is so sad. I so much wish that our Petitioners were a little more sensible about things. According to me, Stalin and Bhathena never had the plot. Zeal, vim and vigour, passion and commitment are one thing, however, this must be tempered by common sense, practicality and humility.
Above: Arbor Road Estate circa 2016. Barren land and fencing.
Above: A couple of years later. Miyawaki Method, Forest coming along the fence. The large pool in the centre that is now happily full.
Above: If you look carefully in the top centre of the photo you will see the under construction Machan. See how small the trees are in comparison to the Machan.
Above: The Machan now has trees towering over the rooftop. That is more than 30 feet. Just 4 years.