Protests to Save Mumbai’s Aarey Forest Continues Amid Conservation- Development Debate

Residents of Mumbai have been protesting against the rapid decay and damage caused to the Aarey forest.

Since the past two weeks there have been daily protests by citizens in many parts of the Mumbai city. The protests are being staged against state government’s reported move to hack around 2,700 trees in the city’s Aarey Colony to build a casting yard for the 14.47-km Lokhandwala-Kanjurmarg Metro corridor-6.

The Aarey forest area is home to thousands of tribals and bore hundreds of unique flora and fauna species. Environmentalists from various organisations, along with activists, students and citizens, have been putting up a fight to protect Aarey forest against the government move of cutting down thousands of native trees, citing reasons of habitat loss, displacement and environmental degradation.

Aarey forest is part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park ecosystem, but also holds an entire ecosystem of its own, with a rich biodiversity. Activists have argued that an “ecosystem like this takes hundreds of years to build up, and cannot be re-planted over night.”The approval for cutting down the trees was given by the Tree Authority of BMC when the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) had approached it to seek permission for felling the trees to make way for a car shed as a part of the Mumbai Metro project.

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Since then, hundreds of people including many celebrities like Asha Bhonsle, Sonakshi Sinha, Shraddha Kapoor, as well as political leaders in Mumbai have been staging protests to show their disapproval. Protests, however, intensified after Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief minister of Maharashtra, tried to justify the move by saying that a balance must be created between development and conservation drive.

The Shiv Sena’s young leader Aditya Thakrey has been steadfastly opposing the proposed construction in Aarey colony and voted against the plan calling it as an attack on the health of the city.

Nevertheless, even as environmentalists stressed the importance of protecting Aarey, referred to as Mumbai’s ‘Green Lung’, municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi and Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) managing director Ashwini Bhide defended the decision to remove the trees, with Pardeshi saying Mumbai has a higher number of trees compared to cities like London, Tokyo or New York. Also arguing that the move is indispensable for the proposed metro project.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd MMRCL had  proposed cutting down 2232 trees and transplanting another 469 for the Metro-3 car shed at Aarey Colony. It had said that it would plant three saplings for every tree that was cut down. But activists were far from satisfied, saying that clearing trees would lead to several problems for Mumbai, including floods and air quality crises. Also ineffective transplantion efforts by the authorities that eventually lead to death of the transplanted trees were cited for the dissatisfaction.

Amidst these public protests, the MMRDA has, now, decided to seek an alternate land parcel at Wadala in the southeastern periphery of the megapolis. Activist however still argue that the situation is far from over as the work for the metro car shed has already begun and over a 100 trees have already been chopped.

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