The decision to restart the work of the metro car depot at Mumbai’s Aarey colony was taken by the new government led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his Deputy Devendra Fadnavis in their first cabinet meeting within hours of taking the charge. This decision has not gone well with Mumbaikar and especially environmental activists. Many local residents and social activists took to the streets to protest against this.
The Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap said, “We strongly oppose the construction of the metro car depot in green lung Aarey. The city unit chief Bhai Jagtap urged the Union government and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to drop their “juvenile insistence” on going ahead with the plan. One of the first decisions taken by the Eknath Shinde government was to allow construction of the car depot for Metro Line 3 at Aarey, a move that has met with opposition from environmental activists and some political parties, overturning the previous government’s plan to build it at Kanjurmarg.
Aarey metro depot controversy
Aarey controversy started in the year 2019 when then Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government is bound to cut the trees of Aarey for the development in Mumbai. MMRC had announced cutting 2700 trees for building the metro car depot. Which is spread over 13000 hectares that is an abode for 27 Villages and a habitat for animals.
The Bombay High Court had rejected all the proposals to cut over 2500 trees in Aarey. In 2020 then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray declared 800 acres of land in the Aarey colony as a reserve forest and also had withdrawn the case against the protesters who were fighting to protect the Aarey and propose a new site for the metro car depot in Kanjurmarg.
On June 6, the Centre submitted the affidavit in the Bombay High Court calming the land ownership where the Maharashtra government proposed to build a metro car depot. The Bombay High Court decree granted ownership of a 6000-acre parcel of land to a private firm by saying “fraud was played on the court” After that BMC, the Maharashtra government and several other civil bodies clams’ ownership of the same land. In March this year, the Maharashtra government order the owner of the land to Adarsh Water Park and Resort in October 2020.
“Undeniably, a fraud of huge proportion has been played by suppressing the claim of other parties on the land. The decree order is a product of fraud played on the court by the parties. I have no doubt in my mind that the scam was done by the court itself,” Justice Menon had said while hearing
Local resident’s plight
A local resident Akshay Shimpi told Afternoon Voice, “Whatever decisions are made in regards to Aarey that remained on the paper but there is no movement on the ground. The government’s decision to construct metro car shade in Aarey was declared wrong by an earlier government, if this government wants to enjoy the power and see its citizen happy, then they should avoid taking such a decision. Earlier Thackeray government had provided multiple options for metro car shade. As the forest reduces pollution of the city and cutting would boost the level of pollution to an extreme level. Currently residents and activists are protesting peacefully against the decision but if the government doesn’t listen, they have an option to call for a protest march.”
Why are activists fighting for Array?
Zoru Bathane, an Environmentalist says “Since Devendra Fadnavis become CM, he wanted to make a metro car shed in Aarey. We are requesting that we do have another option like Kanjurmarg, but he wants to make it in Aarey only. When Uddhav Thackeray came into power, he shifted to Kanjurmarg but Fadnavis only stops the work. If workers do not stop it could have been done by now. After coming in power again he again starts the work in Aarey only. There are two issues with Fadnavis, the first is ego and the second is that Kanjurmarg property has been given to the builder.”
“Fadnavis lying since day one. Metro car shed cannot be shifted all the trees are being cut this all lie. There are still hundreds of trees over there. The whole plots are green only. For development, forests get harmed that we can understand. But intensely to take vengeance and destroy Aarey does not make sense. It’s not logical that car shed needs to be made in Aarey only,” Bethena further said.
Ashok Kurmi, Environmentalist and Social Worker told Afternoon Voice, “We do have the option to shift metro car shed but if we talk about forest, we cannot shift forest and its natural habitat for political reasons sacrificing something is not good. On the last environmental day, we disguised as Adivasi and spread awareness that if we cut forests then where their habitat will go. They cannot survive in City or town. This is not good.”
The legal side of the story
Advocate Asim Sarode said, “There shall be no development at the cost of environment is the basic principle which needs to be followed. Regarding Aarey and Metro project it is important to note that another optional place is available for the metro car depot. In a growing concrete jungle like Mumbai, Oxygen pockets or biodiversity refuges like Aarey forest are necessary. Construction in this area will destroy the local flora and fauna of this region. With such projects, the various cycles which take place in such forest regions will get affected. Politics should be kept away from environmental issues, instead, decision-makers should come together and work together to save the environment. Damage to such forests will be irreparable. Hence, I think the Aarey forest should be protected as it will be beneficial to maintain the last remaining green pockets of Mumbai. Any decision resulting in the destruction of ecology or environment can be challenged at The National Green Tribunal or High court to seek justice.”
Advocate Ali Kaasif Khan Deshmukh said, “Anyone can file the PIL. In our Mumbai, the major oxygen source is Aarey only. It is also protecting the wildlife as well if we cut it will create issue only. The earlier government also support this but after BJP came into power, they again start working on this. But people have the power to stop this work after filling PIL in the Supreme Court or the Bombay High Court to protect forests. In short, they can PIL Public interest litigation for its protection.”