The fight to save Mumbai’s green lung--Aarey milk colony -- from slipping into the hands of the corporates is intensifying in Maharashtra. Over last weekend, the colony witnessed urban Mumbai crowds marching shoulder to shoulder with tribals from the colony to save forest land from being acquired by the corporates.
Following the proposal of the Metro car shed project, the state forest department and the civic body signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on June 5 (World Environment Day) for handing over around 100 acres at Aarey Colony in Goregaon to extend the Veermata Jijabai Bhosle Udyan (Byculla zoo).
The MoU was signed in the presence of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar at the corporation’s headquarters in Fort. The civic body will be given the land on a 99-year lease period at a rent of Re 1 each year. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) plans to introduce state-of-the-art facilities at par to the zoos located abroad, the expenditure for which is expected to be a massive Rs 500 crore.
Speaking to Newsclick, Harshad, a part of the committee protesting the move, said: “A day before the MoU was signed, posters were put in the area to invite people to the ceremony. On the day of the event, some of us reached the site to attend the ceremony but were not let inside. This was a deliberate plan to ensure that no one turns up to protest.”
Tribals and activists have been protesting the idea of displacing animals and tribals for the project and putting animals in cages for a public spectacle.
The protest was organised by the Adivasi Haqq Samarthan Samitee. Since the last protest in Aarey for water and electricity, the tribals have mobilised themselves independently to fight against the proposed land grab plans. Harsh said, “initially the initiatives of the protests were being taken by the urban people. However, in a remarkable move, now the tribals themselves are taking on the big corporates, through songs and dance and poetry.”
Protests in Aarey colony have intensified over the last one month with a slew of projects being proposed in the area. 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.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government is set to open buffer zones around national parks, tribal lands and private forest lands for construction activities in what comes across as a move aimed at benefiting some industrialists. Activists alleged that the allocation of the green cover was 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.
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. In September, as a major setback to the movement, the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) principal bench in New Delhi directed the withdrawal of the case challenging construction of the metro car shed over 13-acre land.
Previously, speaking to NewsClick, Amrita Bhattacharjee, an activist with the Aarey forest movement, had said, “Multiple projects have come up in the Aarey region. 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.”
Harshad added, “The question is not of the zoo, but of the fact that the land grab will not be limited to do the zoo, with the Metro car shed project there is a proposal of constructing a 33-floor building complex, complete with parking, a food court etc and another project to build a metro bhavan. This is just the state testing the waters. The idea is to acquire as much space in Aarey as possible.”
When asked about what lies ahead for Aarey, Harshad said, “We will have to take to Azad Maidan to make the voices of the tribals heard.”
Read More: Tribals in Aarey Colony Protest Over Relocation and Unavailability of Basic Needs