“Development ke naam pe hum ko khatam karahi hai ye sarkaar. (The government wants to finish us in the name of development,” said Ravindra, a 33-year-old activist, fighting to save his home from being taken away for corporate projects in the Aarey Colony, Mumbai.
The fate of over 2,000 tribal families including Ravindra’s is undecided. Many others like him believe that they are being made pawns in the process of furthering corporate projects by the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state.
Speaking to Newsclick, Amrita Bhattacharjee, activist with the Aarey forest movement, explained, “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 BJP-led 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 directed to benefit a cluster of industrialists.
After much criticism against utilising Aarey land for housing purposes, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has floated tenders worth Rs 3,500 crore to construct houses for rehabilitating slum dwellers from Maroshi in Andheri and for tribals from Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
According to the tenders, the tribals will be relocated to two-storey structures, which will have a courtyard, while the slum dwellers will be shifted to tenements of multi-storeyed buildings.
According to the tender documents, 43-acre land will also be used for tribal housing, which will have 300 sq ft space for each unit with an open courtyard and individual terrace.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) development plan (DP) 2034 has earmarked land inside Aarey Milk Colony for rehabilitation of tribals, and it has permitted the rehabilitation of tribals and Aarey’s slum inhabitants under MHADA and Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) redevelopment schemes. There are approximately 13,486 slum hutments and 1,795 tribal families in the area, as per SRA’s records. The proposed plan hopes to rehabilitate tribals of SGNP who have lived there since 1856.
Tribals on the ground suggest otherwise. Speaking to Newsclick, Ravindra added, “Saalon se humari pushte yahan reh rahi hai, iss zameen ko apna ghar kehte aaye hain, iss ghar main log humse humari zameen cheenana chahte hai. (My family has been living on this land, and has been calling it home. Now, they want to take it all away from us.) First, in the name of the milk production, now in the name of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation project.”
He added, “Over 2,300 families are being affected all in the name of development. If the question is indeed of development, then why is the government not helping in the development of the agriculture we do? Why are they so keen on shunning us out from our land?”
Asha Bhoye, a resident of the colony said, “Main yahan salon se kheti karti thi, bhaji lagati hi, fal likali thi, mera nariyal ka jhaad idhar hi hai, ab sarkaar humara compound maarli, abhi tak humre illaake ka survey bhi nahi hua hai, humare ghar ka zameen ka kuch pata nahi chal pa raha hai. (I have been earning my livelihood through the produce here, with fruits and vegetables, and now the Mumbai Rail Corporation has taken our compound. I have no idea what’s happening to my land.)”
In addition, about the question of livelihood and the ecologically sensitive nature of the issue, Amrita highlighted that previously, the Maharashtra government had stated that they are evicting slum dwellers from the Haripur slum.
She added, “The tribals have been put into small SRA flats where they feel claustrophobic since they have always lived out in the open.”
Yash Marwa, Aarey forest activist said, “Neither the old plans nor the newer plans take care of tribals, kolis, agris and East Indians. It's important for Mumbai to pass the mic instead of choking them with our development model.”
The case of the tribals is currently being discussed in the Mumbai High Court. Its next hearing is scheduled to take place in January. The blatant acquisition of the tribal land along with the manipulations of the processes by the state, highlight the extent of the violations of the Forest Rights Act as well as the Constitution.
Previously, in September this year, Aarey locals led a massive campaign to stop deforestation in the region, bringing the issue in spotlight. In September, as a major setback to the movement, The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) principal bench in New Delhi had directed the withdrawal of the case challenging construction of the metro car shed over 13-acre land.