Even as citizen groups and political parties continue to vociferously oppose the proposed construction of a depot for the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro Line III in Aarey Colony, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) has sent a formal proposal to the state’s Urban Development Department, stating that it wants to construct the depot on a 24-hectare plot in Aarey, in the greater interest of the public.
However, according to sources, the proposed car depot will only take care of Metro services for 20 years. Post this, a new car depot will have to be constructed on the Kanjurmarg land, which had been suggested by the Chief Minister’s appointed committee. On March 8, mid-day carried a front-page report on activists who have identified a 97-hectare, litigation-free plot in Kanjurmarg for the depot.
Solving commuter problems
Yesterday, MMRC Managing Director Ashwini Bhide interacted with selected reporters on the issue of constructing the car depot in Aarey. Post the meeting, an official from MMRC said, “Already the project has been delayed because of the protests and this has also resulted in cost escalation. In larger public interest, we don’t want the project to get delayed as it is going to solve the commuting problems of the people.”
Rs 1,500-crore delay
The actual work for the Metro line is yet to begin and the project is around 18 months behind schedule. Sources from MMRDA informed that the various delays — including the issues over the car depot, resettlement and rehabilitation — have escalated the cost of the project by around Rs 1,500 crore.
The official added, “We are also going to award bids to start the construction work along the alignment and so, we think it would be really helpful if we have a car depot on a 24-hectare plot in Aarey. A formal proposal has already been sent to the state’s Urban Development Department and once we get the clearance, we will start the work.”
MMRC also claimed that the consultant appointed to study the Kanjurmarg land said that the land is marshy and it will take another 16-18 months to level the surface and make it appropriate for construction.
“The consultant has told us that a time of 16-18 months would be required to make the land proper. This will have to be done properly, otherwise constructing the depot will be tough. This is why we are considering the Aarey land for the Phase-1 depot. The Kanjurmarg plot can be developed for Phase-2, which would also be helpful for the proposed Jogeshwari-Kanjurmarg Metro line.
This move comes a month after MMRC authorities claimed that the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) status quo on the project is applicable only on development within 100 metres of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) boundary, and does not apply to this project, as their proposed land for the depot is outside the aforementioned area.
Commenting on the application, Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group said, “MMRDA is picking and choosing what it likes, be it court orders or a site to destroy. Once again, without honestly exploring other options, they have succumbed to the real estate lobby’s demand to inaugurate Aarey Colony for constructions and open the field for further ruin.”
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), in its draft notification on the Eco Sensitive Zone of SGNP, has shown the entire Aarey Milk Colony as an eco-sensitive area and has even invited suggestions and objections from the people.
Commenting on the same, an MMRC official said, “Our Metro III project received clearance in 2013, so I don’t think it is applicable in our case. However, we have also written to MoEF, putting forward our side.”
Vidya Athreya, Biologist, Wildlife Conservation Society
Really sad to hear this. [This project is] removing the green cover Mumbai needs.
Manish Gadia, Save Aarey Group
Development does not mean only building Metros, flyovers, etc, but also [includes] improving the health index of citizens via good air quality and improving on open spaces. Aarey has a high tree density and acts as a crucial lung for Mumbai. It is also home to one of the city’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots and, thus, the loss of a single inch here would be a huge loss for the city.
Krishna Tiwari, Environmentalist
Development at the cost of environment and wildlife is totally unacceptable. Practically, there has to be a balance for betterment of both. At the same time, we cannot deny infrastructure growth for the ever-expanding city of Mumbai. Aarey is a lost battle and the only way we can deal with it is through better mitigation methods to be implemented for the future survival of wildlife in these areas.
MMRC ready to discuss
Officials from the MMRC yesterday said they are ready for a discussion with the citizen groups opposing the project in order to find a solution to the issue. An MMRDA official said, “We are also pro-environment and that is the reason we are going to plant three times the trees that would get affected. We would really appreciate if the citizens and members attached to the Save Aarey campaign come up and discuss it with us.”