After the authorities said there was “no wildlife” at the Metro III site in Aarey Colony, the CM’s expert panel also failed to mention wildlife or biodiversity in its report; instead the panel suggested ways the car depot can be built there with less damage to trees
It seems the Aarey Colony greens are not in the clear yet when it comes to the Metro-III project that threatens to displace 2,298 trees, as well as the resident wildlife there. The expert panel appointed by the chief minister has now submitted its final report suggesting that Kanjurmarg, not Aarey, is the best possible location for the Metro car depot.
The likely site at Kanjurmarg suggested by the expert panel as an alternate option for the Metro-III car shed. File pic
However, at the same time, it has also hinted that if acquiring land at Kanjurmarg is not possible, a “double-decked” car shed can be built in Aarey Colony itself, putting fewer trees to the axe. Interestingly, the committee seems to have skirted around any mention of wildlife or biodiversity at the proposed Metro site in Aarey Colony, instead only mentioning the threat to native and exotic species of trees there.
This is the second time an official report has underplayed wildlife in Aarey since the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) submitted a report to the Japanese agency, partly funding Metro-III, claiming there was “no wildlife” at the Metro site in Aarey (‘Did MMRC lie to get Rs 5,000 cr from Japan for Metro?’, February 12).
Building a two-storey car depot will ensure that only 20 hectares is used instead of the 30 hectares proposed initially, which will result in fewer trees being cut, the report suggests. However, activists have once again expressed objections to this viewpoint, insisting that the Metro poses a threat not just to the trees but to the rich biodiversity in Aarey, including protected wildlife species such as the leopard and Indian rock python.
“The expert committee studied all the factors and even read the various newspapers that had reported on Aarey Milk Colony’s rich biodiversity, but in their report they avoided using the words like wildlife and biodiversity found in Aarey. If they had mentioned that wildlife is also found at the plot, then constructing a car depot in Aarey would have become next to impossible,” said a source from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
‘More at stake’
Activists are of the opinion that the Metro authorities are still not seeing the forest for the trees. “The whole issue with the Aarey site is being made out to be just about trees. The matter is not just about the trees but about the ecological value and multiple services of the landscape to Mumbai.
Somehow the government or social understanding of environmental issues is just stuck in trees,” said environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal, who had been fighting the Metro proposal as part of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group. Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia also pointed out that there was more at stake than just trees: “Protecting and regenerating Aarey is a non-negotiable priority.
Transport infrastructure needs of Mumbai are important, but it would be a serious mistake to place money above ecological security. Especially when alternatives for the Metro yard location exist, planners shouldn’t just focus on saving money by not shifting the location.
The Metro yard in Aarey could cost lives due to increased human-leopard conflict and play a major role in changing the climate of the location.” According to Stalin Dayanand from NGO Vanashakti, the plan to build the Metro car shed in Aarey is simply a gateway to start more construction activity there.
“We will not allow any destruction of nature and open spaces in Aarey. MMRDA has been deceitful in its approach in this issue,” he said, adding, “There is no issue involved at all at Kanjurmarg. If there is such an issue, then let MMRDA make a public declaration statement that it will never touch that land for any future projects.
The fact of the matter is that the Aarey Colony has maximum potential for developers. Let MMRDA answer to the citizens of Mumbai why they cannot build this double-decked Metro yard on their own barren land at Bandra-Kurla Complex.”
In case land at Kanjurmarg is not available for some reason, the car depot can be built with a modified design at Aarey Colony itself, states the report submitted to the CM on Thursday. The expert panel has suggested that a double-storey car shed be built: this will increase the project cost by Rs 750 crore, but will only displace 446 trees and will need less space (20.82 hectare). In addition, the Committee also recommended a few measures to mitigate the environmental impact to Aarey Colony.
>> Plantation of trees as per statuary requirements of 1:3 trees for every tree cut
>> Only trees above 10 ft height of native variety to be planted
>> Plantation to be undertaken by professional agencies only
>> MMRC to maintain these trees for 5 years