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Mumbai: Here's what can protect biodiversity at Aarey

Wildlife experts say proposed widening of the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road threatens biodiversity in the colony, insist that the BMC should either construct an elevated road over Aarey or wildlife corridors to ensure animals aren’t crushed under vehicles

After forcing wildlife out of all the city’s green pockets and squeezing it into the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the forests of the adjacent Aarey Milk Colony, government agencies are readying another assault on the animals’ natural habitat in the form of the proposed widening of the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road (GMLR).

An animal overpass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Pic/Getty Images
An animal overpass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Pic/Getty Images

A stretch of the BMC project will be passing through the colony, requiring the widening of the Aarey Milk Colony road from two lanes to four. This will not only entail chopping nearly 1,000 trees from one of the city’s few green lungs, but could also prove catastrophic for the leopards, deer and other animals that inhabit the area.

The Aarey Colony Road is lined with trees on either side, ensuring that they will be the first casualties of the widening project. Pic/Kaushik Thanekar
The Aarey Colony Road is lined with trees on either side, ensuring that they will be the first casualties of the widening project. Pic/Kaushik Thanekar

While such projects in nearly every other country include the construction of an underground wildlife crossing to ensure that the animals aren’t crushed under vehicles, or bypassing sanctuaries and other areas altogether by constructing an elevated road, none of these measures are reportedly even being considered by the BMC.

Up in arms
While conceding that development is necessary, wildlife experts and environmentalists say the BMC can at least make the proposal more green and animal friendly. Speaking to mid-day, biologist and wildlife expert Dr Vidya Athreya said, “My question is why they are bent on getting rid of green spaces, which are so scarce in Mumbai?

Why not make the entire Aarey Colony a green zone for the public and have an elevated road across it? It should not be that big a problem considering that many elevated roads have been constructed in the city lately. The elevated road will ensure that there is no threat to the biodiversity, and studies have shown that the colony is teeming with wildlife.”

“Cutting down trees and widening the road will not only have an adverse effect on biodiversity, but will also increase the chances of wild animals being hit by vehicles while crossing the road. If the road has to be widened, the authorities should construct a wildlife underpass so that wild animals like leopards, jungle cats, civets etc can cross the road without any problems,” he added.

Environmentalist and founder of NGO SPROUTS Anand Pendharkar said, “The widening of the road will not only lead to animals being killed while crossing the road, the reduction in trees will also affect squirrels, monkeys, and the temperatures of Mumbai as Aarey, with its green cover, is one of the coolest places in suburban Mumbai. Depending on the species of trees being chopped, the number of bird species may reduce. The rare hornbills will be especially threatened as they need large trees for nesting.”

Full speed ahead
The Aarey Milk Colony Road came under the jurisdiction of the Aarey Milk Colony CEO earlier, but was taken over by the BMC a few days ago and made toll free. After taking over the road, the civic body had announced that a stretch of the proposed wider GMLR would pass through Aarey Milk Colony and the present two-lane road would be converted into a four-lane one.

The BMC has already begun the survey of trees that might get affected while widening the road and, while the detailed project report will take a couple of months to come out, a surveyor told mid-day that a minimum of 1,000 tress may have to be cut down. “As of now, it is very difficult to predict the exact number, but as per our count, a minimum of 1,000 trees will have to be cut and some more replanted,” he said.

BMC speak
BMC Additional Municipal Commissioner S V R Srinivas said, “As of now, I cannot comment on the number of trees that will have to be cut at Aarey Milk Colony while implementing the GMLR project. I can only comment on the same once the project’s detailed project report (DPR) is ready. All I want to say is that a very small stretch of GMLR will pass through Aarey and all factors, including the impact on the environment, will be taken into consideration.”

Wildlife heaven

>> Spread across 12 sq km and located next to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the Aarey Milk Colony is teeming with wildlife. A study on the biodiversity in the colony by ecologists Rajesh Sanap and Zeeshan Mirza found that the colony is home to 76 species of birds, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 38 different types of reptiles, 19 spider species and 34 different types of wild flowers.

>> In the Aarey Biodiversity report, which was also submitted to the state government, they stated that colony also has a wide variety of mammals including leopards, spotted deer, rusty spotted cat, jungle cat, civets, the sambar deer and barking deer.

>> A survey conducted by the Mumbaikars for Sanjay Gandhi National Park initiative also found that there are 5-6 leopards in Aarey Milk Colony.

Crossing fact file
>> The first wildlife crossings were constructed in France in the 1950s

>> More than 600 tunnels are installed along roads in the Netherlands to help protect the endangered European badger

>> The longest ecoduct is in the Netherlands, which runs 800 meters across a highway, railroad and golf course

>> In the US, wildlife crossings have popped up over the past 30 years to help animals as diverse as mountain goats, salamanders, big horn sheep, desert tortoises and Florida panthers, among others, to cross the road

Expert speak

Sunjoy Monga, conservationist
Widening of the existing road from two to four lanes will definitely have a negative impact on the biodiversity of Aarey as a large number of trees are there on either side of the road. In my view, having a completely underground tunnel passing below Aarey Milk Colony is a good option even if its construction cost is more, because it will help in saving the important green cover and rich biodiversity.

Bahar Dutt, conservationist and author of Green Wars
There is already a problem of conflict in that area and very little space is left for wildlife anyway. The question that needs to be examined is whether the forest department will ensure that the necessary checks and balances are maintained.

>> In May 2012, a four-month old leopard cub died after being hit by a vehicle at 8 pm near Unit 13 of Aarey Milk Colony

>> In April 2012, a five-year-old male leopard was injured after it was hit by a vehicle at Film City in Goregaon East

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