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Aarey forest in Mumbai, where there is a battle over land

Mumbai Metro  

The battle over Mumbai's green lung - the 1,300 hectare Aarey forest land in the city's northern suburb, Goregaon - continues. The Maharashtra government is adamant on providing a part of this ecologically sensitive zone for a Metro car shed, while environmentalists and citizens’ groups are fighting against the move as it is home to several species of birds, insects and leopards, and was once part of the adjoining Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Why is the forest needed?

What once used to be over 3,000 acres of forest land in north Mumbai has been reduced to around 1,300 acres. It is one of the few green patches left in the city, and, according to ecologists and environmental groups, a lot of it has already been irreversibly encroached upon. The government says it will take only 3% of the land for the car shed.

The Aarey forest used to be part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. In 1949, after a survey by dairy development experts, 3,160 acres were pencilled off for the Aarey Milk Colony, which comprised a milk factory, pastures for cattle grazing and residential units for labourers.

The land was handed over to Aarey Milk Colony, an autonomous body, and was declared a No-Development Zone. That changed in 2014, when the State government converted it into a Development Zone. Once agricultural land was converted into non-agricultural land, bits and pieces began to be eaten away.

Isn’t the Metro important?

Apart from the Metro III car shed, the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road, now in its planning phase, will eat into the forest area. There are also plans to make a 200-acre zoo on the land, which some environmentalists support, while others oppose.

The Save Aarey movement opposes the car shed construction as it will be declared a high security area and will rob enthusiasts of one of their favourite cycling or trekking venues, not to mention the consequences of the felling of over 2,000 trees. What is also worrying environmentalists like Anand Pendharkar is the issue of tribals who stay in Aarey and their rehabilitation.

Why a court battle?

The Save Aarey movement has, over the years, sought data from the State government about an expert committee report sanctioned by the Chief Minister’s office, which reportedly concluded that the Aarey forest is the fifth highest in terms of ecological importance in the city, and as to why that report is being disregarded.

On October 12, residents of Aarey Milk Colony moved the Bombay High Court alleging that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited had illegally acquired the Aarey depot land to construct the car shed.

The proposal to develop the depot led to a public outcry across Mumbai. On August 11, 2015, in response to several protests - including one by the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena - a technical committee of six members, including two environmental experts, was constituted to look into the issue of the car shed’s environmental impact.

The committee recommended that the car depot could be relocated to Kanjurmarg in north-central Mumbai, with only a small stabilising unit at Aarey Depot.

On October 26, the National Green Tribunal admitted a petition filed by the NGO Vanshakti alleging illegal construction undertaken by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) in Aarey Colony. The NGO complained about how the authorities have dumped debris and levelled the ground for the Metro shed while the matter is being heard at the NGT.

What’s in store?

The battle over the car shed is not over. Mumbaikars are in a dilemma - should the citizens give the go-ahead to a project that will potentially reduce pollution or should they fight for the little greenery that the city still possesses? It is not an easy question to answer.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2020 1:04:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/why-is-the-aarey-forest-land-in-mumbai-in-the-news/article21822979.ece

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