The 30-acre Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Project (MMRCL) alongside other proposed projects in Mumbai’s green cover- Aarey colony- have been put in the dock by the Supreme Court. The petition filed by environmental activists and senior counsels Shyam Divan and Gayatri Singh was heard by the SC today. “The court has given some more time to the Maharashtra government to file its response on why other sites were not chosen for the Metro Car Shed Project proposed in 2014,” said Yash Marwah, an activist working with the Aarey Conservation Group. The next date of hearing in the matter has been scheduled on April 15, 2019.
On April 1, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had directed the government and the MMRCL to spell out why the alternate sites could not be used for constructing the car shed. The bench had also granted an urgent hearing in the matter. Speaking to NewsClick, Amrita Bhattacharjee, an activist working with the conservation campaign said, “The case was initially heard on April 1. There was a technical committee which was formed to look into the damages that will adversely affect the biodiversity of the land. It was also noted that the construction could possibly lead to flooding in the future. The important question is why the other alternative sites can’t be used? The government has stayed mum on the issue and has not filed its response yet.”
Earlier, in October 2018, due to a judgement by the Bombay High Court, the MMRCL was allowed to construct the car shed at the Aarey Colony. Amrita added, “The court had stated that Aarey was not a forest land and therefore, the land is suitable for commercial constructions, putting at risk the lives of the tribals living there and also the biodiversity in the region.”
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The government and MMRCL had told the Bombay High Court and the National Green Tribunal that Aarey land is not “a naturally forested area’’ or a “pristine area of land… with dense tree cover”, nor “has it been recognised, notified and/or identified and demarcated” as forest land. Additionally, they told the Tribunal that it “has been used for non-forest activities since 1949”.
Challenging this, the activists on the ground have stated that the allocation of the green cover is primarily to further the interests of corporates by the state government, facilitating the violation of the Forest Rights Act (2006) as well as the Constitution.
Plans of multiple projects have come up in the Aarey region, affecting over 27 hamlets in the area. The plans, if successful, are likely to affect over 2,000 tribal families. Currently, the Aarey conservation group is creating awareness to build political momentum ahead of the elections. Last week a human chain was also formed in Mumbai against the rampant depletion of the green cover.