The plot at Aarey Milk Colony, on which the state government plans to set up the zoo and bird aviary
The plot at Aarey Milk Colony, on which the state government plans to set up the zoo and bird aviary

The tribal communities residing in Aarey Milk Colony have decided that they will not allow the government to set up a zoo and bird park on a 100-130 acre plot in the area, as it would not only take away their livelihood, but would also threaten their existence in the area. A team of government officials, who visited the site on June 10 to conduct a survey, had to return empty-handed, due to the opposition from the tribals. The locals also plan to organise a protest rally on June 20, to oppose the project.

Land transfer
In 2014, the land required for the zoo was transferred by the Dairy Development Department to the Forest Department. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had also held a meeting with the Forest Department, where it was decided that the zoo at Aarey would be an extension of the Byculla Zoo. In October 2014, two officials from the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and two from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) visited the proposed area and gave their approval for a zoo of international standards.

Speaking to mid-day, a resident of the tribal hamlet Keltipada and a member of the social organisation Shramik Mukti Sanghatna, Ankush Bhoir, said, “The Forest Department with the permission of the CEO office is constructing a boundary wall in the area. We have written a letter to the chief minister requesting him to look into the matter.”

When contacted, Aarey CEO Nathu Rathod said, “The work of constructing the wall near the proposed zoo area in Aarey is being done by the Forest Department and not us.”

Save Aarey
Meanwhile, the representatives of 27 tribal hamlets in Aarey held a meeting and discussed the issue. “We have decided not to give away the land as nearly 53 people from our community do seasonal farming on the plot. If the government takes away the land, then who will run their houses?” asked Bhoir.

In the past, wildlife lovers and those fighting to save Aarey, had opposed setting up of the zoo, saying that it was not needed. “The government should focus on revamping and maintaining the Byculla Zoo, which has been in the news for its poor condition. The portion of the land on which the government wants to set up the zoo is a forested path and is also a part of the wildlife corridor between SGNP and Aarey. Hence, it would have a negative impact on the movement of animals,” said a member associated with the citizens’ groups fighting to save Aarey.

Work underway
When contacted, an SGNP official said, “In 2014, the CZA team had visited the spot to carry out an inspection. The draft layout plan of the proposed zoo was given to the CZA officials. The process of setting up the zoo is underway.”