In one of the fastest tree-cutting sprees, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd succeeded in chopping down a staggering 2,141 of the permitted 2,185 trees within less than 40 hours -- or roughly at the rate of one full-grown tree per minute!
Fuming activists said that these were not just trees but many of indigenous variety harbouring an entire ecosystem in the lush greenery, flora, fauna, insects, reptiles, etc.
"The government did not even wait for the Supreme Court but went ahead and in just 40 hours butchered 2,141 trees, though this officially claimed figure needs to be verified," an irate Amrita Bhattacharjee, Member of the Aarey Conservation Group (ACG), said.
The ACG has been at the forefront to save one of the last remaining green lungs of Mumbai since the past few years.
She alleged that in September, the MMRCL released media advertisements making misleading claims on the entire issue to misguide the people.
On its part, the MMRCL admitted that, following the decision of Bombay High Court on October 4 upholding the permission of (BMC's) Tree Authority, it had felled 2,141 of the allowed 2,185 trees between October 4-5 -- barely 44 short of its target.
"We respect the order of the Hon'ble Supreme Court passed today (Sunday). No further tree felling activity at the car shed site in Aarey Milk Colony. Other works including clearing of logs of already felled trees, will continue on the site," the MMRCL said.
Another activist, Shashi Sonawane, who was among the 29 arrested by Mumbai Police for opposing the tree-cutting, said that the MMRCL's speed in clearing the green belt clearly indicated it was "not certain of getting any reliefs from the Supreme Court".
"Why other options were not considered for the Mumbai Metro car-shed locatione It would have helped save the precious trees which also form the catchment area of the Mithi River and the three lakes inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park," Sonawane, Bhumiputra Bachao Andolan, said.
Slamming activists and opponents, the MMRCL Managing Director Ashwini Bhide on Monday justified the move saying: "Sometime to create something new destruction becomes inevitable but it also paves the way for new life and new creation".
She charged that a new false propaganda was in the air that 15 days' notice is required after the BMC Tree Authority order is uploaded on its website.
"This is absolutely baseless. The Tree Authority order is issued on September 13, and the 15 days are over on September 28," adding that the MMRCL was waiting to take action till the high court order (October 4).
Maharashtra Congress Spokesperson Sachin Sawant said that while participating in a television show, "Man vs Wild" recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recalled how his uncle desperately wanted to start a business in wood, but his grandmother opposed it saying trees also have life.
"The PM said his entire family is for preserving environment. Regrettably, these words sound very hollow as his own Bharatiya Janata Party government has felled thousands of trees in the dark of night," Sawant said.
Terming double-speak and hypocrisy as the epitome of the BJP which ignores the eMan Ki Baat' of the Aarey jungles, Sawant said the treatment meted out to the environmental activists reeked of arrogance and alarming signs of autocracy.
Nationalist Congress Party's National Spokesperson Jitendra Awhad wondered whether the Supreme Court order to MMRCL to stop the tree-cutting till October 21.
"Was this to ensure that the October 21 assembly elections could be conducted peacefully? This emass-murder' of trees and all the living beings it supported will curse the governmente This delay will kill the movement that has come out of the soul of the people for which the ruling party will pay in the polls," Awhad warned.
Even ruling ally Shiv Sena has opposed the tree-cutting with party President Uddhav Thackeray vowing to deal with the matter in the best possible manner after the next government would come to power.
""We shall deal with the murderers of Aarey Colony forests, if required even amend the law for it," Thackeray said, even as his son Aditya blasted the MMRCL move.
"A project that should be executed with pride, the Metro-3, has to do it in the cover of the night, with shame, slyness and heavy cop cover. The project supported to get Mumbai clean air, is hacking down a forest with a leopard, rusty spotted cat and more," Aditya Thackeray tweeted.
Despite repeated calls and message by IANS, the MMRCL MD, Ashwini Bhide chose to remain incommunicado.