The Tree Authority which comes under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has 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 proposal has been in talks for quite some time. Earlier in August, the proposal 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 has reportedly stated that they did not submit a report giving a green flag to the felling of the trees as 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: Under Garb of Development, Tribal Land Being Seized in Aarey Colony
Speaking to NewsClick, Stalin Dayanand from Vanshakti, which is one of the NGOs fighting the case for Aarey forests in the Bombay High Court, said, “The tree authority has cleared this in haste. Nearly three thousand trees lost would be ecologically damaging since this happens to be on the banks of the Mithi river and there is a possibility of flooding. This project will require 50,000 litres of fresh quality ground water everyday to wash the bogey’s which will lead to the drying of the forests. This move is only the front, there is a larger agenda here.”
Another activist from Aarey Milk Colony, Harshad said, “I think the case of Aarey is that of land grabbing. And if you see the history of such cases, you will see that adivasis are always at the receiving end. There has been a petition in the High Court regarding 'Missing Papers' of Aarey land. Secondly, they say it is 30 ha of land for the Car Shed, but the actual denotified land is 165 HA. The government is planning to make a 33 storeyed tall commercial building called Metro Bhavan, then the RTO office, then restaurants, gyms and what not. And not to forget the bigger mindless project of a Zoo inside, which will be spread across 120 acres.”
He added, “Moreover, the Metro 3 Car Shed site at Aarey is floodplains of the Mithi River. We have pictures, a proof from this monsoon itself, that the entire car shed site was flooded in the first rain itself. Just imagine what could happen when 30 ha will be concretised?”
“People keep saying it's only 33 hectare of land. Then why has the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) of the NDA Government denotified 165 hectares of Aarey as Eco Sensitive Zone?” asked Yash Marwah, Founder of Let India Breathe. Vanshakti, alongside other initiatives such as Let India Breathe and Save Aarey, are at the forefront of the protests against this government project. The activists have also raised an alarm over the claims of the MMRC to plant thrice as many saplings to compensate for the indiscriminate felling of trees. They claimed that the previous drives have been a failure to do the same.
In a plantation drive in 2015, only 284 saplings had survived out of the 400 planted, falling severely short of its targets. Previously, in the last week of May, NewsClick had reported a massive march organised by the tribals in protest against plans of relocation, and lack of electricity and water. In April, a human chain was also formed in Mumbai protesting against fast depletion of green cover. In September last year, Aarey residents led a massive campaign to stop deforestation, bringing the issue into the spotlight.
Also read: Mumbai Car Shed Project: Maharashtra Government Maintains Silence on Alternative Site
Earlier on April 1, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had directed the government and the MMRC 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.”
The Aarey forest issue is becoming a crucial civic issue in Mumbai, as multiple projects have come up in the Aarey region. The projects are affecting over 27 hamlets in the area. These projects include the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation project, the car shed project, and another project sanctioned by the Force One Group. The plans, if successful, are likely to affect over 2,000 families.
The proposal is also facing opposition from the Shiv Sena and the Congress, who are hoping to make it a plank to corner the BJP. They have also demanded that an FIR be lodged against the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) for felling trees on the proposed site without taking permission from concerned authorities.