Despite the fact that Aarey Colony is home to over 4 lakh trees, the Metro authorities now claim that the area is not a forest but merely grasslands. This claim was made by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) in another desperate bid to get clearance to build the car depot for Metro III within Aarey at the cost of displacing up to 1,000 trees and threatening the rich local biodiversity there — a proposal that has met with fierce opposition from green activists and citizens.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep: BMC has already counted over 4 lakh trees in the ongoing tree census at Aarey
Aarey is, in fact, considered a precious green lung in Mumbai, and has also been designated as a No Development Zone (NDZ) and Eco-Sensitive Area (ESA) in a draft map prepared by the by the Environment and Forest ministry (MoEF). It was in response to this that the MMRC sent an e-mail to the MoEF declaring that Aarey is not a forest, therefore the government should exempt the Metro site from the No Development Zone.
Activists had already anticipated MMRC would make such a move, and in April, they filed an RTI query on the matter, thanks to which MMRC’s bizarre claim has now been revealed.
Defending the MMRC’s stand, an official told mid-day, “We have asked for exclusion on the grounds that the project is aimed at easing traffic and improving Mumbai’s transport infrastructure.”
However, this has not gone down well with nature lovers and activists. “Everyone knows that Aarey is not a forest as per the government records but it is sad that the authorities claim that it is a grassland when the BMC tree survey has already counted more than 4 lakh trees and this number will only increase. This itself proves that Aarey is a healthy forested patch. It’s easy for the government babus to sit in their AC cabins and draw conclusions. If they government wants to prove that Aarey is not a forest then they should conduct a fresh environment impact study with proper experts,” said naturalist Yogesh Patel, who is a frequent visitor to Aarey.
MMRC demands double
Environmentalists have also taken objection to the MMRC now staking claim on double the area than they had asked for before. Earlier, they had said would require 30 hectares to build the car depot, but in the letter to the MoEF, the MMRC said it will need 62 hectares. “We have already asked the MoEF to bring the earlier sanctioned 30 hectares under the no development zone. Why is MMRC now asking for 62 hectares to be exempted?” said Manish Gadia, wildlife photographer and member of the Save Aarey Group.
The MoEF is inviting suggestions and objections from the public in response to its ESA draft notification. So the MMRC responded with a letter stating:
>> Aarey is not a declared forest but open grassland owned by Government of Maharashtra. The land has been used for non-forest purpose for years.
>> As per proposed facilities, total land requirement for metro car depot and related activities Aarey Milk Colony is approximately 62 hectares. It is necessary to delete the said area from ESA.
Stalin D, Environmentalist from NGO Vanashakti
MMRC has consistently lied and engaged in spreading ambiguity on all issues concerning the proposed Metro car shed in Aarey. Their flip-flops will put a gymnast to shame. In the face of contradictory proof, they continue to spread misconceptions.
Kunal Chaudhari, Nature Lover
The MMRC has made some shocking claims; I can sense that this is because the MMRC has plans to build the Metro depot inside the green belt in Aarey in the name of development.