Mumbai: Activists, locals clash over demands to declare Aarey a forest

Even as activists are demanding that Aarey Milk Colony should be declared a forest and receive protection as an eco-sensitive zone, a local NGO has now opposed this, claiming it was nothing but a ploy to displace tribal residents and slum dwellers from the area.

During a recent visit to Aarey Colony, this reporter found banners put up by a local NGO, claiming that if Aarey is declared a forest, tribal residents and slum dwellers would be displaced from the area
During a recent visit to Aarey Colony, this reporter found banners put up by a local NGO, claiming that if Aarey is declared a forest, tribal residents and slum dwellers would be displaced from the area

During a recent visit to Aarey, mid-day found the area was plastered with banners stating: ‘Some NGOs have asked the National Green Tribunal to declare Aarey Milk Colony as a forest. We object to this as it is nothing but a plan to remove slum dwellers and adivasis from here.’ The banners had been put up by a local NGO, Janadhar Samajik Pratishthan, which works towards the rehabilitation of slum dwellers in Aarey.

Also Read: Activists worry about Aarey's future in DP

This paper had reported how environmentalists were worried about the future of the green cover in Aarey and demanded that the area remain a No Development Zone (NDZ) in the BMC’s new Development Plan as well (‘Activists worry about Aarey’s future in DP’, mid-day, December 3).

They were particularly concerned that if Aarey was stripped of the NDZ title, several new constructions — including that of the Metro III car depot and a new zoo — would threaten the local biodiversity.

Green cover
Environmentalist Stalin Dayanand, from the NGO Vanashakti, who has been fighting against such threats to Aarey, told this reporter, “I think some people are deliberately trying to mislead local residents. Our demand has always been that there should be no future development or illegal construction in Aarey Milk Colony because it is one of the most important green lungs of this city and also acts as a buffer zone to the national park. We don’t want a car depot or any new development to come up here; already a lot of green cover has vanished because of encroachment.”

Read Story: No leopards in Aarey? Activists gather evidence to prove MMRC wrong

However, Nilesh Dhuri, a local resident and a member of Janadhar Samajik Pratishthan, said, “We are also against the Metro car depot and the encroachment taking place in Aarey Milk Colony, and also want the greenery to be saved. But there are many slum dwellers who have been staying here for more than 30-40 years. If Aarey is declared as a forest, we will have to leave this place, which we are against. We want proper houses through the SRA scheme in Aarey.”

Tribal speak
Ankush Bhoir, a resident of the tribal hamlet, Keltipada and a member of social organisation Shramik Mukti Sanghatna, said, “I think the banners are misleading. We have government documents to prove that our ancestors have been staying here longer than 100 years, much before Aarey Milk Colony was formed. We would be more than happy if the Aarey is declared an eco-sensitive zone. It is the need of the hour to protect Aarey’s greenery and for that, it is important to stop slums from mushrooming here.”

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