The Bombay High Court Thursday issued a notice to the Maharashtra government on a PIL seeking that authorities demarcate and notify the 103-km Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) stretch as a protected area.
A bench of Justices B R Gavai and M S Karnik also directed the state government to file its reply responding to the plea within two weeks.
The bench said if the state failed to file its reply within the stipulated time, the court will stay all ongoing felling of trees around the national park for several development projects.
The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Vanashakti and environmental activist Stalin Dayanand.
As per the plea, despite an order passed by the high court in 1997 to demarcate the boundary of the national park area and protect it from rampant encroachments, the authorities were yet to take appropriate action.
The petitioners said that replies to their queries under the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that the state had so far notified only around 86 km of the national park area as protected land.
The park, one of the last remaining green areas in the city, was already facing encroachments by slum dwellers and some small residential and commercial establishments.
There was confusion on the periphery of the area since the national park area was not fenced, allowing for encroachments at many places, the PIL submitted.
The state had also authorised felling of countless trees around the national park area and its neighbouring Aarey colony for various development projects, including the Mumbai Metro, the petitioners submitted.
The petitioners also told the court that earlier this year, Vanashakti had released some documents to show that in 2012 the state had demarcated 20.76 sqkm of Aarey Milk Colony as ‘un-classed forests’ and a part of the national park.
This meant that the land in Aarey, a forest land, could not be diverted for projects such as the Metro.
However, in its reply to another RTI query filed by the petitioners, the state claimed it had lost all records of the said demarcation in a fire at the state secretariat building.
Therefore, the petitioners said, it was imperative that the court intervene in the matter and direct the state to demarcate the national park area to prevent any further destruction of the green cover.