Metro III hearing: Activists see red over absence of green experts

Despite the CM appointing the committee specifically to understand citizens’ concerns about the ecological cost of Metro III, none of the environmental experts from the panel showed up for the stakeholders’ hearing; this showed the committee was not serious, alleged activists

Was the Chief Minister merely making empty promises when he assured citizens that an expert panel would hear out their concerns about the proposed Metro III car depot that threatens 2,298 trees in Aarey Milk Colony?

The Metro III car depot, proposed to be built at this site in Aarey Colony, will result in 2,298 trees being axed, pushing the local wildlife out of habitat. File pic
The Metro III car depot, proposed to be built at this site in Aarey Colony, will result in 2,298 trees being axed, pushing the local wildlife out of habitat. File pic

This is the question being raised by activists who are now feeling short-changed after Friday's hearing, which was attended by only two members from the special committee, while other members including those with environmental expertise were conspicuously missing.

Since the CM appointed the panel on March 2, this is the first time the members interacted with Aarey Colony residents and activists opposed to the Metro III car shed. Of the eight-member team, three were appointed for their environmental background, so they could better understand citizens' concerns about how the project could threaten Aarey's biodiversity ('Find other sites for Metro car depot, CM tells experts', March 3).

However, none of them were present during the stakeholders' hearing, which, according to many, defeats the very purpose of setting up the panel and conducting hearings. "Even though the committee listened to us carefully, I was shocked that a few members of the expert committee were absent during the hearing.

mid-day’s report on March 3

mid-day's report on March 3

This proves that it's nothing but a symbolic committee that was formed without any real purpose," said a stakeholder who had attended the meeting at the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) headquarters in Bandra-Kurla Complex. Only three panel members were present there, including MMRDA chief UPS Madan and BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte.

Also present was Ashwini Bhide, the managing director of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), which is handling the project. Several activists in the Save Aarey campaign such as Manish Sethi, Rishi Aggarwal, Stalin Dayanand, Anand Pendharkar and Biju Augustine had gone for the hearing thinking that it would be an opportunity to effectively put forward their point of view about the environmental cost of the Metro project.

"We explained why we are opposed to the car depot at Aarey, and the committee listened to our stand carefully and also noted down our suggestions. What was surprising was that the expert members from the environment field were not present during the hearing," said Manish Sethi, a member of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group.

According to another group member, Stalin Dayanand, who is also project director at the NGO Vanashakti, the activists asked the panel why the other members were absent. "They responded saying the other members were not able to make it due to prior engagements.

They said our suggestions would be forwarded to the members who had missed the hearing and all the points would be considered while preparing the final report," Dayanand said. mid-day attempted to contact municipal commissioner Kunte, who was present for the hearing, but he was unavailable for comment.

New suggestions
During the hearing, activists suggested a new location for the car depot salt pan land in Kanjurmarg, near the Jogeshwari Vikroli Link Road (JVLR).

While this was the primary suggestion, environmentalists also proposed other alternate locations at Colaba, MbPT land, Kalina, and Mahalakshmi Racecourse. “We are happy that the hearing went cordially, and the committee carefully listened to our objections and suggestions for other locations for the car depot.

We suggested that the salt pan land in Kanjurmarg is available and should be considered for the car depot. Getting the saltpan land will not be a difficult task,” said environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal, adding further, “The present Metro corridor (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) should be extended from Seepz up to Kanjurmarg, so that more people can benefit from it.”

The expert committee
UPS Madan, MMRDA chief
Sitaram Kunte, BMC chief
Nitin Kareer, principal secretary (urban development-1) 
Dr Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur 
Dr Rashmi Patil and Dr Ravi Sinha, faculty, Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, IIT-Bombay
G R Madan, ex-general manager, Kolkata Metro
Balvinder Kumar, director, Delhi Metro

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