Goregaon-Mulund Link Road: Biodiversity is almost absent in Aarey, claims BMC

Even as it readies to axe nearly 700 trees in Aarey Colony home to wildlife such as leopards and the Indian rock python for the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road, the BMC has claimed in a report that the area ‘does not have rich ecological factor’

Aarey Colony is under attack yet again, with the authorities deliberately underplaying the ecological importance of the city’s green lung in order to obtain speedy clearance for development projects.

The BMC, which is currently preparing to fell nearly 700 trees in Aarey to make way for the elevated Goregaon-Mulund Link Road (GMLR), has shockingly claimed in its Detailed Project Report that the area does not have a rich ecology.

The BMC intends to fell 696 trees in Aarey Colony to make way for the elevated Goregaon-Mulund Link Road. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The BMC intends to fell 696 trees in Aarey Colony to make way for the elevated Goregaon-Mulund Link Road. Pic/Nimesh Dave

However, this claim has raised the hackles of ecologists, especially since it comes after the Metro authorities had made similar claims about there being no wildlife at the Metro III site in Aarey (‘Did MMRC lie to get Rs 5,000 crore from Japan for Metro?’, mid-day, February 12).

mid-day had carried a sustained campaign to prove the claims wrong, with wildlife experts, environmentalists, activists and local residents providing anecdotes and photographic evidence of Aarey’s thriving wildlife such as leopards, Indian rock pythons, birds, insects, etc.

Section 6.6 (ecology and biodiversity on page 72) from the report states, “The project area does not have rich ecological factor present in the vicinity. The biodiversity is almost absent in the project area. There are no sensitive flora and fauna in the project area.”

This is shocking, since Aarey Milk Colony is known for its rich biodiversity and researchers have discovered species of spiders that are completely new to science. Aarey is also home to leopards, jungle cats, small Indian civets, monitor lizards, the rare rusty spotted cat and many species of birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Members of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group have raised doubts over the way the project report has been prepared, questioning how the BMC can claim there is no rich ecology in Aarey when it is yet to carry out an environmental study.

“The elevated road project is in the planning stage and further process is being worked out. A detailed environmental assessment has not been carried out yet. What is shocking is the fact that this report states the absence of ecology and biodiversity in Aarey. This is hard to digest,” said Manish Sethi, a member of the group.

It may be recalled that the authorities had initially intended to widen Aarey Colony road to make it a six-lane road connecting Goregaon and Mulund. However, this would have affected hundreds of trees that line the entire stretch, and after environmentalists opposed this plan, the BMC recently approved a 15-km elevated road instead.

Even so, the elevated plan will displace as many as 696 trees in the 750-metre stretch between the Goregaon entrance and Maharashtra Agro Industries, where the road will have to be widened. This paper had reported earlier that environmentalists had suggested building an underground road instead, but the BMC ruled out this option due to increased project time and cost, as well as the impact on Sanjay Gandhi National Park, through which the tunnel was proposed to pass (‘Here’s what can protect biodiversity at Aarey’, mid-day, August 23, 2013).

Activists are now demanding that the authorities review this project and conduct an assessment to ensure that the impact on the local ecology is minimum, even if this comes at a higher cost. Many have also said that the BMC should either drop the project altogether or simply improve the current road or realign the GMLR project at a fraction of the cost.

“As per the report, 696 trees in Aarey will be impacted, of which BMC claims they will transplant many. To make amends for the trees that are not relocated, the BMC will replant twice the number in open grasslands identified within Aarey. However, the project will require pillars to be installed, thereby impacting the ecology.

Also, there will be impact during the construction and operation stages, which needs to be understood,” added Sethi. Despite attempts to contact the BMC, the authorities were not available for comment.

Project report
>> The 15-km elevated road is planned between Western Express Highway in Goregaon and Nahur before Airoli
>> It is aimed at easing the traffic between western and eastern suburbs, particularly on existing roads like JVLR, Ghodbunder and Aarey road
>> Both ends of the GMLR have high population growth in population, making the road necessary
>> 5.5 km of the road will be elevated inside Aarey, up to Tapeshwar temple (on the Powai side)
>> The GMLR will lead to better travel speed 15KM/hr to 60 KM/Hr
>> This will result in reduced travel time and pollution levels. Pollution level will reduce to 1/5th, while commute time will come down from 30 minutes to 16 minutes

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