After the indiscriminate felling of over 2,000 trees in Mumbai’s green lung, the Aarey forest, tribals organised a funeral last night for the lost trees and the wildlife.
The Adivasis of Aarey Forest got together at Navsacha Pada village last night for the very emotional affair.
The trees and leopards of this forest are considered to be god-like by the nature-worshipping tribals of the Aarey forest, which spans across 1,287 hectares and is adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The forest is home to thousands of trees and animals including leopards which are listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The Tree Authority, which falls under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), had previously cleared the proposal for felling of over 2,702 trees in Aarey Forest for the much-contested Metro car shed project. The Tree Authority permitted Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to cut 2,232 trees from the Aarey Colony and translocate 469 others to make way for the construction of the car service centre.
The trees were cut on October 4-5 in the middle of the night and 29 people, who were among the protesters at the site, were also detained by the police and were granted bail much later. The trees were cut following a Bombay High Court order last week, which had given a go-ahead for the same.
Following this, the police have now stopped the rescue operations for all dying birds and animals. Reports from eyewitnesses at the site suggest that bodies of the baby birds were scattered everywhere; homeless animals were seen roaming around, while snakes that were coming out were allegedly being beaten to death by metro officials. Locals alleged that Adivasis were prohibited from taking pictures and were being harassed. Aarey was blocked by the police from three sides over the last three days, while those protesting were picked up and detained with no explanation. Activists on the ground said that Section 144 has been imposed for days in a row. The biologists have claimed that the permission to enter the site where the Metro-3 car shed is being planned was denied by the police.
Speaking to NewsClick, Harshad, one of the young activists at the Aarey Forest site said, “The prevailing sentiment here is that of a house where a death has occurred. The people are not giving up; the government is projecting a false narrative stating that they have cut over 2,000 trees; however, that is not true. Assessment on the ground suggests that approximately, only 300 trees have been cut and most of the trees are still intact.”
As protests by residents and environmentalists against felling of over 2,000 trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony gathered steam and the issue took up a political colour, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed the felling of any more trees until the next hearing on October 21. The activists are now calling for an immediate meeting of conservation biologists, wildlife officials, botanists, zoologists and climate experts to make one last effort to save the forest land.
Yash Marwa, an activist from Let India Breathe, said, “Despite all, we are currently mobilising support for those who were arrested. We are now waiting for the hearing on 21st. However, of course, the judgement was too little, too late.”
Meanwhile, activists are trying to keep the hope for the movement alive. Independent activist Zoru Bhathena took to Twitter to highlight the fact that thousands of trees are still intact and need saving. Harshad added, “The government is trying to project the narrative that they have already cut the required number of trees and therefore all is lost, we are taking this head on.”
Amid the campaign for the Maharashtra Assembly elections, massive protests have been going on in Mumbai, leading to arrests of several environmental activists as well as residents of Aarey Colony. All political parties in the state, except the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have come out with statements condemning the felling of trees, especially the manner in which it was conducted—in the middle of the night.
Earlier in August, the proposal for cutting of the trees was tabled before the Tree Authority for final approval. However, the authority members, led by the Shiv Sena and Congress, had rejected the proposal and demanded that they be allowed to visit the site. The expert committee had reportedly stated that they did not submit a report giving a green flag to the felling of the trees as is being projected by the BMC. Members of the committee have stated that they had primarily submitted observations as they were not given enough time. Members such as Shashirekha Iyer of the expert committee, have also gone ahead to make claims that the information provided to them in the inventory on the forest contained information that showed discrepancy.
Also read: SC Stays Felling of Trees in Mumbai’s Aarey, to Hear PIL on October 21