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
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.

MMRC says...
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.