Clashes broke out between the police and green activists who tried to stop tree cutting by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) in Aarey Colony in north Mumbai on Friday night and Saturday, leading to arrest of at least 29 persons.
The police on Saturday imposed section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Aarey, restricting movements and gathering of groups, and cordoned off the area.
Several people were detained, including NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad, Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi, Sena leader and the former Mayor Shubha Raul, at the site.
Activists also tried to get relief from the Bombay High Court, by approaching the court again on Saturday and seeking a stay to tree cutting, so that they could approach the Supreme Court. But the bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and A K Menon, who granted the petitioners an urgent hearing in the chamber refused to grant a stay.
The protests began on Friday evening when MMRCL, within hours of the High Court dismissing four petitions challenging the permission granted by the civic body's tree authority to fell about 2700 trees, started the tree cutting.
During the night, activists alleged, over 200 trees were cut. Opposition parties slammed the ruling Sena-BJP, stating they failed to save the trees. Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray also criticised the MMRCL and backed the protesters.
At least 38 protesters were booked under IPC sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from duty) and 143 (unlawful assembly).
"There is a heavy police deployment in the area. No one is allowed to enter Aarey Colony. Even tourists are being stopped," said an activist. "We have arrested 29 protesters. Six of them are women. Some of them had manhandled and beaten the police personnel deployed in Aarey Colony and obstructed them from discharging their duty," a police official said.
On Friday night, around 200 people gathered and started protesting near Picnic Point in the colony, he said. "While the protests were on, a group of people roughed up two police personnel, who sustained injuries," he said.
A case was registered under IPC sections 332, 353 (assaulting a public servant) on the complaint of a 28-year-old woman police constable who was injured in the attack.
Some protesters alleged that the women protesters were manhandled by male police officers who bundled them into police vans. Mumbai Police spokesperson denied it.
In a tweet, Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi said, "I have been forcibly evicted by the cops and I wasn't even breaking the law! The cops in the car wont even tell me where I am being taken ... this is insane @MumbaiPolice."
"This matter is going to be heard by the National Green Tribunal on October 10, and we hope to get some respite there. But it seems the authorities want to eliminate the entire green patch before the hearing," Stalin D, one of the activists, said.
Aaditya Thackeray, who is contesting the October 21 Maharashtra assembly election from Worli in south-central Mumbai extended his support to the protesters.
"The vigour with which the Mumbai metro 3 is slyly and swiftly cutting down an ecosystem in aarey is shameful and disgusting. How about posting these officials in POK (Pak Occupied Kashmir) giving them charge to destroy terror camps rather than trees?" he asked.
Opposition NCP and Congress targeted the ruling Shiv Sena and BJP, saying they failed to save trees in Aarey. "Where were fake environment lovers, who championed ban on plastic, when the tree felling started?" NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik asked, tagging Aaditya Thackeray and the BJP.
"It is not right to talk about climate change on one hand and to cut down trees silently in the night on the other. @CMOMaharashtra it was expected of you to come forward to save Mumbai's lungs by keeping aside the ego," NCP MP Supriya Sule tweeted.
"This is the time @ShivSena. You are in the government, can stop this. The Mahayuti (mega alliance) is more important or the mega loss of trees?" Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant tweeted.
Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon said cutting of trees was a violation of model code of conduct.
MMRCL's managing director Ashwini Bhide, meanwhile, dismissed the activists' contention that a fresh notice should have been given before cutting trees began.
"The Tree Authority permission was issued on September 13. HC has dismissed four petitions...but some people consider themselves superior to judiciary as well," Bhide tweeted. "The tree authority order is issued on September 13. 15 days are over on September 28. Action was awaited till HC verdict was out," she said.
As the tree cutting began hours after the high court dismissed green brigade's petitions, social media was abuzz with messages slamming the Metro authorities.The MMRCL has defended tree felling by contending that it is restricted only to a small area in Aarey Colony, and it is necessary to ensure a modern transport system for Mumbaikars. The proposed car shed for the metro-3 line (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) will occupy 33 hectares.