Indian police detain 40 activists protesting tree felling for new metro

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian police detained 40 protesters demanding that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corp Ltd (MMRCL) not cut some 2,700 trees to build a train parking shed for an upcoming subway line, a spokesman for the Mumbai police said on Saturday.

Over 400 people gathered on Friday night and tried to hug the trees, located in the Aarey Colony suburb, in an attempt to stop officials from cutting them. Police eventually removed the protesters and shut entry to prevent further inflow of people, activists said.

“They have been charged with obstructing a government servant from doing his duty and unlawful assembly. Around 200 policemen have been deployed at the location,” Pranaya Ashok, a spokesman for the Mumbai police, told Reuters.

The Bombay High Court had dismissed on Friday all petitions opposing the cutting of the trees, clearing the way for authorities to build a parking shed for Line 3 of a broader train network that aims to reduce traffic congestion in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

Ashwini Bhide, the Managing Director of the MMRCL, accused the protesters of trying to bypass the law.

“If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to street,” Bhide said in a tweet.

The MMRCL has said in the past that there is no other viable location for the shed, and authorities have stressed that Line 3, slated to open in December 2021, will do more to reduce pollution in Mumbai than the cluster of trees.

Yash Marwah, a member of the Aarey Conservation Group, an informal citizen’s collective that has been at the forefront of protests, said those opposed to the felling of trees were considering other legal options.

Environmentalists, politicians, Bollywood stars and business leaders have opposed the felling of trees in one of the city’s last green spaces, saying destroying green cover could exacerbate pollution.

“The vigour with which the @MumbaiMetro3 is slyly and swiftly cutting down an ecosystem in Aarey is shameful and disgusting,” Aaditya Thackeray, a leader of local BJP ally Shiv Sena said in a tweet late on Friday.

Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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