On the midnight of October 6, 2019, Prashant Chodankar, a young professional from Lalbaug (Central Mumbai) travelled to Aarey gate in Goregaon (Western Mumbai) as he wanted to be part of the ongoing protest against the late night cutting of trees in Aarey colony for metro car shed. He was moved to action by the then state government’s “gross disrespect” of the people’s will who had been protesting against the deforestation for long. However, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi-led state government’s decision to conserve Aarey as a forest area has brought satisfaction to him.
"I was born and brought up in this city. I couldn't see that the natural beauty of Mumbai is being encroached under the garb of development. I saw how in the darkness of the night, the authorities were engaging in this action, even evoking section 144 to curb public movement," explained Prashant. " He added that he came to know about the protest from a rap song on YouTube which explained the importance of forest area in Aarey.
Similar to Prashant, hundreds of people who had no experience of agitation or no political background had gathered there to protest the government's use of brutal force against nature. The success of the people’s movement lay in the fact that it was an innovative protest movement.
"Save Aarey was the most spontaneous movement of recent times and closely tied with innovativeness. You can see number of graphics, posters, rap songs, explainer videos about the need of Aarey. The effective multimedia campaign touched the hearts of the millions across globe. I think that is the key behind the success of this effective campaign," said Prasad Khatu, former advertisement professional and currently the owner of multi-media promotional company.
The environmental activists and supporters of the Save Aarey movement used all possible mediums to spread their message and concerns effectively. They also successfully linked the larger topic of need to protect the environment against the rampant concretisation of urban areas. On one hand, D Stalin of Vanshakti NGO continued to wage a court battle, and on the other, the spirit of young supporters to make the protest effective and their voice heard widened the reach of the movement, he added.
"The success of Aarey protest is due to the support it could generate from across sections. Especially the young crowd. When I visited the protest spot the morning after the merciless felling of trees, I saw hundreds of young people there. Many of them were college goers. It was in a way a very reassuring picture about our future and movements," senior journalist Jatin Desai, who had reported extensively on the issue, told NewsClick.
Also read: 'Aarey' to be Declared a Forest but No Clarity on Remaining Land
Save Aarey also succeeded in connecting multiple environment activists and organisations. A group of environment enthusiasts from Palghar and Thane districts also joined the protest at Aarey. Thousands of people took to Twitter and Facebook to express their support for the movement. It is this support which could sustain the movement even on days when the legal battle was not yielding much success. In such times, this widening of scope of protest, bringing new but concerned organisations into the battle was necessary, said an environmental activist.
Bhagwan Keshbhat, founder of Vatavaran foundation, said that the battle of Aarey is a success of approach. "In the times when many cities in the world are trying to create forest in their periphery, Mumbai was witnessing an exactly opposite approach. Save Aarey movement was highlighting this contradiction and showing that development doesn't come with killing of nature. I think that approach was received well, so the public pressure was created," he said.
The Aarey Sanvardhan Samiti, which was at the frontline of the movement, believes that this is only the beginning. "We won't say that the mission is accomplished. Yes, the government decision to declare Aarey forest is our victory. But we will not rest until the entire Aarey regions becomes a forest in the records of government," said Swapnil Pathare, a member of committee.