Keeping our promise to the woods

paromita vohraTrees are beautiful.

I didn’t really realise this for the longest time, which will seem ridiculous to some.

I was never the outdoorsy type, always, avowedly a city kid. But, of course, I too learned to see the deep beauty of trees. I didn’t discover this in some distant pastoral setting. I discovered it right here, in Bombay, the city better known as a concrete jungle, when, some years ago, I began jumping over a short wall to take walks in the Aarey Milk colony grounds near my house.

Participants hug trees at the Save Aarey campaign. Pic/Shadab Khan
Participants hug trees at the Save Aarey campaign. Pic/Shadab Khan

The trees in Aarey are old. Some look like they could be understudies for the trees in Lord of the Rings. Some have creepers wrapped thick and tight around them, like tragic lovers who have shut out the world and now breathe together in an eternal private embrace. If you went walking there now, the streets would be thick with yellow summer flowers. At other times, brash rashes of orange gulmohars form a natural skyline at sunset.

Parts of Aarey are densely quiet, the wet green absorbing all sound. Other parts are pretty noisy. I refer not to the world’s worst-ever toll road, which Aarey boasts of, but to Chhota Kashmir, a little lake and its nearby picnic spot, where families come for boat rides and balloon buying in the evenings.

What is the problem with this? Why isn’t it recreational enough for the BMC, who would like to “develop” it with a recreational area and a zoo? How does an overpriced park that would irretrievably damage the city’s last remaining green lungs, make a Sunday evening of it in Chhota Kashmir become development?

Oh that’s right — it is development — for developers. Not for people, who are still waiting around for affordable housing after a million claims to the same. Aarey lands have been of interest to politicians and developers for a while, and they nibblingly encroach its edges with building projects. Now, claiming it will control encroachments, the BMC has proposed a development plan which includes the park, zoo and institutional development (meaning government buildings none of us will be allowed to enter). As also a Metro rail shed which would require cutting down 2,298 trees.

Three thousand acres in size, Aarey has 20,000 trees, 126 types of birds and 86 types of butterflies. It is the buffer zone for the rich Sanjay Gandhi Natural Park, a sanctuary we are lucky to have in the city (for now, anyway). For the overall health of the city, its migratory birds, its monsoons, its air, we need this to remain.

That politicians don’t care about it is obvious — after saying Aarey lands will not be touched, our Chief Minister did a quick about turn saying “precinct development activities” would be allowed.

So, as citizens, it is in our best interest  to not allow these plans to push forward, but to get involved in opposing them. There is already a substantial movement of citizens’ groups organising around this issue under the hashtag of #SaveAarey. In fact, today March 1, there is Twitter Timeline Bharo plan by the group — and you can join by tweeting to the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister to ask them #SaveAarey. If you often wonder how you can impact the state of things, the mass tweet campaign would be a simple beginning and from there you could see what other activities you can support or become part of.

It’s important that the people do this. Trees make the cities and people better, kinder. Getting involved now won’t take much. Bringing what’s lost, back later, may take more than we have.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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