Save Aarey: Find other sites for Mumbai Metro car depot, CM tells experts

After a sustained campaign against the Metro car shed coming up inside Aarey colony, CM Devendra Fadnavis yesterday appointed a panel to look for other feasible sites for its construction; the move comes days after Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray and the Aam Aadmi Party joined in the protest

Activists opposing the Metro Line 3 depot proposed to come up inside Aarey Milk Colony scented a small victory yesterday, when Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis directed authorities to not fell trees for the project, and appointed a committee of experts to find whether other feasible sites were available for constructing the facility.

Activists put up posters near the proposed site at Aarey colony last week. Pic/Suresh KK
Activists put up posters near the proposed site at Aarey colony last week. Pic/Suresh KK

mid-day has been running a sustained campaign to save the Aarey greens, following which many NGOs and political parties came forward to form pressure groups. Fadnavis formed a panel of experts (see box) after his party’s (BJP) delegation, led by Ashish Shelar, urged him to review the decision.

Aaditya Thackeray
Aaditya Thackeray

“We are exploring all possibilities. The panel will recommend alternative spots and study their feasibility for the project. If they don’t find a feasible place and we need to use Aarey land for the depot, the panel has been asked to suggest scientific ways to rehabilitate trees that are standing there,” Fadnavis told mid-day.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ decision to appoint the expert panel may have been prompted by Sena youth leader Aaditya Thackeray’s support to the campaign to save Aarey Milk Colony. File pics
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ decision to appoint the expert panel may have been prompted by Sena youth leader Aaditya Thackeray’s support to the campaign to save Aarey Milk Colony. File pics

The panel has three independent environmental experts, two Metro experts, and three top bureaucrats. Fadnavis said the government would seek the expertise of international experts in replanting of trees. “We are aware that the trees which are found in Aarey Colony will not survive elsewhere after replanting.

We will have these trees replanted in the vicinity of the depot if we don’t get other place for the depot,” said Fadnavis. The panel will submit its report in 30 days from the day it starts working, said the CM, adding that he was well aware of citizens’ concerns. According to him, the panel will conduct public hearings and incorporate views of activists and local residents in their recommendations.

Among the 2,298 trees that face the axe for car shed are rare trees such as the Baobab, which is at least 100 years old. Moreover, protesting groups were also concerned that clearing the trees and grass would destroy the ecosystem that shelters several species of plants and animals.

Politics behind it
Other than the hue and cry raised by activists and local residents, what prompted the CM to appoint a panel was Shiv Sena youth leader Aaditya Thackeray’s support to the campaign. Thackeray had told mid-day that he would meet the CM and ask him to scrap the entire Metro Line 3. The Sena is opposed to the alignment of the lines that they say will displace people from Marathi-dominated areas in south Mumbai.

Yesterday’s meeting and the swift decision thereafter is seen as an attempt to deny the Sena and other parties any credit in the movement, which initially started as a public and media campaign with political parties like the Sena and AAP joining in later. MNS chief Raj Thackeray, too, had decided to join the protests.

However, Mumbai BJP chief Shelar, who met the CM yesterday, said he had raised the car depot issue before any other party had expressed its views on it. “Unfortunately, my views were not taken note of by media or the activists. But I’m happy today that my party could address a sensitive issue in a most amicable manner. We thank the CM for all his promptness,” he said.

Shelar said the decision was taken in tune with his party’s and CM’s stand that the city’s green spaces be protected, more so when the city’s new development plan (proposed by the Sena-led BMC) is being opposed because of certain points that are detrimental to Aarey Colony’s rich biodiversity.

 

Biodiversity at Aarey
According to a study by researchers Rajesh Sanap and Zeeshan Mirza, Aarey Milk Colony, which is spread over 12 square kilometres, has 76 different species of birds, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 38 types of reptiles, 19 types of spiders and 34 various types of wild flowers. The study has been conferred with the state government’s ‘Srushti Mitra’ award.

The report, submitted to the state government, also states that Aarey Milk Colony has different types of mammals including leopards, spotted deer, rusty spotted cat, jungle cat, civet, sambar deer, barking deer. A survey conducted by Mumbaikars for SGNP, an initiative of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park also stated that there are 5-6 leopards in the Aarey Milk Colony.

The panel of experts
>> UPS Madan, MMRDA chief
>> Sitaram Kunte, municipal commissioner
>> Nitin Kareer, principal secretary (Urban Development-1) 
>> Dr Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur 
>> Dr Rashmi Patil and Dr Ravi Sinha, faculty, Centre of Science and Environment, IIT-Bombay
>> G R Madan, ex-general manager, Kolkata Metro
>> Balvinder Kumar, director, Delhi Metro

Activist speak

Rishi Aggarwal, environmentalist and activist
The authorities have said that they will keep the Save Aarey team in the loop for every development. The purpose of the panel should be to find an alternative site for the project and not to justify its current site within 30 days. If the latter is the result, we will continue the movement.

Anand Pendharkar, SPROUTS, an NGO
We are happy that the panel has been formed, but I believe they should have taken a well-known ecologist on the panel, along with a member from the Save Aarey community, so we can raise our concerns more effectively. My question is, when the project costs so much, why wasn’t an alternative place decided before starting with it? The extent of loss already caused cannot be replaced. The focus of the expert panel should be on shifting the car depot out of Aarey Milk Colony.

Stalin Dayanand, Vanashakti, an NGO
We welcome the CM’s step; this should’ve been done in the planning stages of the project. The committee looks okay on paper and they are supposed to take our recommendations in consideration before coming to a conclusion. With respect to the absence in the panel of the people behind the movement, we will keep a close watch. If the findings are dishonest, we are here for course correction.

- As told to Ranjeet Jadhav

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