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

Contrary to the MMRC’s claims, leopards have been spotted just a kilometre away from the Metro III car depot site in Aarey Colony

As soon as mid-day highlighted how the Metro authorities claimed that Aarey Colony has no forest or leopards, citizens and activists have once again joined forces to collect photographs, research studies and any other evidence they can find to prove that Aarey is not only blessed with woodland and grassland, but is also home to thriving wildlife, including leopards.

This leopard was spotted seated on a concrete tank near the New Zealand Hostel, just 1.2 km away from the Metro site
This leopard was spotted seated on a concrete tank near the New Zealand Hostel, just 1.2 km away from the Metro site

Despite this, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) is keen to continue with its plan of building the car depot for Metro III inside Aarey, as the alternative will be to spend an additional Rs 1,400 crore just to move the yard to Kanjurmarg. mid-day reported yesterday that the MMRC submitted an intervention application to the National Green Tribunal, asking for permission to build the car depot at Aarey itself.

Also Read: Despite CM's assurances, MMRC shifts the goal post, says Aarey no forest, just 'a piece of government land'

In its application, the MMRC had stated: ‘Aarey land is not forest land as per dictionary meaning or otherwise’. Although Aarey is frequented by leopards, a few of which even live there, the report tried to contradict this and said the big cats do not go outside the boundary of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

However, Aarey is considered as a buffer corridor to the national park, and leopards are, in fact, spotted quite frequently in the colony. This is what local residents, researchers and activists will now seek to prove with evidence of both flora and fauna in Aarey, as the NGO Vanashakti files a reply to MMRC’s application.

Read Story: Build Mumbai Metro stabling yard at MMRDA ground, not Aarey: Environmentalists

An MMRC official told this paper, “We are not saying that there is no biodiversity or wildlife at Aarey, but the area we have selected for the car depot is where there will be minimum impact on the environment and wildlife.” However, mid-day has accessed photographs and videos of leopards prowling just a kilometre away from the car depot site.

The chief minister had appointed an expert panel that recommended the car depot be built in Kanjurmarg, but the Metro authorities still seem determined to build in Aarey instead. According to a senior official connected to the project, shifting the car depot plans to Kanjurmarg will entail an extra cost of at least Rs 1,400 crore and will also lead to a delay in work, as the land there is currently under dispute.

Foreseeing a situation in which the Kanjurmarg land could not be acquired, the CM’s expert committee had recommended that a double-decked car depot be built in Aarey, reducing the area utilised from 30 to 20.82 hectares. Although this will raise the cost by R750 crore, it will mean fewer trees — 446 instead of 2,298 — will be axed.

When mid-day visited Mantralaya, Pravin Darade, a senior IAS officer from the CM’s office also sought to explain that the environmental damage would be minimal, “The number of trees that were going to be cut at Aarey has been reduced. Trees will be replanted in Aarey itself.”

But activists have said they will not compromise and will fight any construction in Aarey. “The Save Aarey community will not accept the construction of the Metro yard here. We request the CM to meet us and hear our plea. Even newer Metro lines being planned via Aarey will be detrimental for this eco-sensitive zone,” said Manish Gadia, an active member of the Save Aarey community.

CM’s expert panel protests
Although the CM’s expert panel did give MMRC the option to build a double-decked car depot or a stabling yard in Aarey Colony, two of the panel members expressed objections to any construction there in a dissent note filed along with the report. Metropolitan commissioner and chairman of the committee, UPS Madan confirmed to mid-day, “Two environmental experts — one from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and another from IIT-Bombay — who were the part of the expert committee, had opposed any kind of construction at Aarey Colony.”

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