Mumbai: It's BMC vs activists over proposed business hub at Aarey

Activist Rishi Aggarwal met representatives of 30 communities in Aarey Colony yesterday and explained how the BMC’s plans for the area would render them homeless; mass agitation planned next Sunday

Activists are set to clash against the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) over the latter’s draft Development Plan (DP), which proposes a business hub in the city’s last remaining green cover. Yesterday, furious environmentalists convened a meeting with the representatives of different communities in the colony, including tribals, over the issue.

Activists met representatives from 30 communities in Aarey Milk Colony yesterday, including those from the tribes inside the forest
Activists met representatives from 30 communities in Aarey Milk Colony yesterday, including those from the tribes inside the forest

The civic body in its new DP has stated its intention to use 1,009 hectares of land in the Aarey Milk Colony to develop it into a theme park and various small recreational parks. According to the plan, it will also house an international zoo, educational institutes, housing projects, along with public amenities, and transport facilities such as a bus rapid transit system (BRTS).

The protesting activists claimed the DP didn’t take into account the livelihoods of the tribals and accused the civic body of completely ignoring them. Rishi Aggarwal, an environmentalist and researcher with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an independent think tank, said, “The new DP has no mention of tribals.

No alternative measures for shifting them are stated. Where will they go? Every time the residents put forward their suggestions and queries, the BMC has always ignored them. It seems the BMC is doing this deliberately so that residents leave Aarey in frustration.” He also added that the indigenous tribes had got the short end of the stick from the BMC, as they struggle for even the most basic amenities like public toilets, medical care, water, and electricity.

“The 27 adivasi padas with over 8,000 tribal voters who have resided here for more than 100 years do not have adequate facilities. Some, like Vanichapada and Khadakpada, lack footpaths, proper internal roads and electricity and the civic administration has overlooked this intentionally,” Aggarwal added.

‘Fight to the end’
An enraged 40-year-old told this paper that they fight to the last person to save their homes and the forest. “I would like to make it clear that residents will fight this battle till the very end,” he said. Activists and tribals will organise a mass agitation against the DP, in the colony next Sunday (March 1), but not before trying to get their voice heard yet again.

“During this week, residents of Aarey will put in their objections in front of the civic administration. We are hoping that at least 3,000-4,000 people will show up for the agitation,” he stated. Advocate Bhupesh Singh, another activist who attended the meeting, added, “On Wednesday we will meet and decide on the agitation.

We will spread awareness about the DP so that when it comes up for suggestions and objections, everyone can register their protest.” The DP 2014-34 pitches development plans for the next 20 years and has Aarey Milk Colony as a feature development zone.

12 square kilometres of the land has been shown as an opportunity for upcoming growth. This means the city will lose its major green cover. If the draft policy does get passed, this will lead to the death of wildlife and also displacement of tribal folk.

Forest in the city
Mumbai is probably the only city in the country to have a whole forest in its midst. Aarey Colony is spread over 12 square kilometres.

A study on the biodiversity states there are 76 different species of birds, 86 different species of butterflies, 13 different species of amphibians, 38 different types of reptiles, 19 different types of spiders, and 34 different types of wild flowers.

A 2012 survey conducted by Mumbaikars for SGNP, an initiative of Sanjay Gandhi National Park put the leopard count at 5-6 in the jungle patch.

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