Mumbai: Third fire in a week strikes Aarey's forests

Following a series of fires in Aarey Milk Colony’s forested patches, locals say they saw yet another blaze, this time at the Metro III yard site; they demand an explanation from the Metro authorities

Less than a week back, following a recent spate of fires in the forested patches of Aarey Colony, mid-day had highlighted citizens’ allegation that the green space was being destroyed deliberately by elements with vested interests.

A video grab of the fire, which locals claim took place on Friday
A video grab of the fire, which locals claim took place on Friday

On Friday, the fears of sabotage gathered fuel when locals said they had spotted yet another blaze at the Metro III car depot site in Aarey. The site is the centre of an ecological dispute between the Metro authorities and environmen talists who are now concerned that the fire could have wiped out all evidence of biodiversity there.

mid-day’s report on Apr 2
mid-day’s report on Apr 2

Friday’s alleged incident follows a series of other blazes that have taken place in Aarey Colony over the past few weeks, which was reported in this paper (‘With sudden rise in forest fires in Aarey Colony, locals smell a rat’, mid-day, April 2).

This week alone, two other incidents had taken place, while the week before, a fire had destroyed a two-acre forested section in Aarey. It should be noted that activists have long been demanding that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) move the yard site out of Aarey, since the area is home to thriving flora and fauna.

Last month, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis commissioned an expert panel to study the dispute and find alternative locations for the car depot. Locals allege that Friday’s fire was lit on purpose, to persuade the expert panel that the site lacks biodiversity.

Caught on camera
According to Biju Augustine, a member of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group, the fire took place in the grasslands along the water pipeline within the Metro site. “I don’t understand how the fire took place inside the depot area.

As there were boards that had been put up warning that trespassers would be prosecuted, we were not able to get close enough to take a picture or video. However, the former security guard at the site shot a video of the fire and sent it to us,” said Augustine.

A local resident told mid-day, “We have heard there are CCTV cameras installed at the car depot site. If the cameras are working, the authorities should provide the details of the fire. We would also like to know whether the Aarey police station, fire brigade and the Aarey CEO office were informed about the fire.”

‘Negative Impact’
Researcher and naturalist Rajesh Sanap said, “Any forest fire that breaks out is not good, as it has a negative impact on the biodiversity of the area. Due to fires, the area gets destroyed and it becomes difficult for anybody to document the biodiversity as chances of finding anything after the fire is very rare.”

MMRC: No fire
“Someone is deliberately trying to spread wrong information. All I will say is that there was no incident of fire at the proposed Metro car depot site,” said Ashwini Bhide, MMRC’s managing director.

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