INDIA. Mumbai: The tranquil environment of Aarey Forest in North Mumbai has witnessed massive protests in the last few days against the resumption of Metro rail III car shed work by the new BJP-Shinde Government with regular agitations held to oppose the proposed car shed.
The police have been intercepting outsiders entering the area, have put up barricades on roads, and have been diverting the traffic to prevent protestors from entering the area. On Sunday, the police detained the protestors- Laxman Jadhav, Rohit Jadhav, Tabrez Ali Sayyed, and Jayesh Bhise under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) on charges of unlawful assembly.
On Monday, while the protest continued outside Aarey, some protestors staged a sit-in agitation outside the Vanrai police station in Goregaon East, demanding the release of the detained protesters. They were eventually released after 10-hour detention around 8.30 pm on Monday.
Environmentalists from the country, including Nagpur, Varanasi, and Hyderabad, have already begun staging symbolic protests supporting the “Save Aarey Joint Action Committee” spearheading the case.
The protests have begun in Aarey since the new Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government, in one of its first decisions after coming to power, decided to move the Mumbai Metro III car shed back to Aarey against the earlier Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government’s decision to construct it at Kanjur Marg in North East Mumbai.
Shortly after he assumed as the Deputy Chief Minister, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis directed the state’s urban development department to begin the process of constructing a car shed in Aarey.
Initially, the then BJP-Shiv Sena Government, led by Fadnavis, had proposed constructing the car shed at Aarey in 2019. Despite being in the Government, the Shiv Sena had opposed the move at that time. Several Shiv Sena leaders, including MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and Aditya Uddhav Thackeray, had joined the protest at the site.
In order to build a metro car shed, the Bombay High Court verbally ordered the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) and the state government not to destroy any trees in the Aarey forest area.
However, in October 2019, the Bombay High Court dismissed all petitions against the proposed cutting down of over 2,500 trees in the Aarey Colony. In response to the Court’s order, the MMRCL cut down over 2,000 trees in just 24 hours.
When the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA Government came to power in November 2019, it reversed the decision taken by the earlier government and proposed to shift the car shed site to Kanjurmarg.
Some portions of the Aarey, part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, were declared an eco-sensitive zone in 2016. Further, the MVA Government declared 800 acres of land as a reserved forest. The Aarey forest is a 1,800-acre area, often termed Mumbai’s “green lung”, which accommodates 27 Adivasi villages and inhabits various animal species.
Under the instructions of the BJP-Shinde Government, the MMRCL, which comes under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), has restored the work of the construction of the car shed and has begun cutting the trees.
As per the Tree Authority, set up by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in 1976, under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, a tree officer must be present at the site whenever a tree is cut. However, no BMC official was current when in a stretch of 5-6 km, many trees were cut simultaneously on Monday. Also, activist Amrita Bhattacharjee said that no permission for cutting the trees was shown to those who protested.
While the issue of the site for the car shed continues to remain disputed, the Bombay high court has already stayed the order passed by the Mumbai suburban district collector allotting 102 acres of salt pan land in the Kanjurmarg area for the car shed, restraining the authorities from carrying out any construction work on the said land, on December 14, 2020.
The 33-km-long underground metro three project aims to link SEEPZ in northwestern Mumbai with Colaba in southerly Mumbai. There is a strong possibility of the environmentalists taking up the issue to Court again.