Save Aarey: Mumbai Metro III site home to Indian rock python?

Contrary to the authorities’ claims of ‘no wildlife’ at the Metro III site in Aarey Colony, a Mumbai cop recently rescued an Indian rock python from there; the snake is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act

Since it was uncovered last month that an official report claimed there was “no wildlife” at the Metro III yard site in Aarey Colony, environmentalists have made unceasing efforts to prove that this is a lie.

The facts seem to be on their side, especially after a Mumbai cop recently rescued an Indian rock python protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 from the grassland within the Metro plot.

Activists are hailing this as indisputable proof that wildlife is present and thriving there and is under threat from the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro line.

Commando Yogendra Satam (attached to Mumbai Police’s quick response team) clicked this photograph of the python when he rescued it from the Metro site on Sunday morning
Commando Yogendra Satam (attached to Mumbai Police’s quick response team) clicked this photograph of the python when he rescued it from the Metro site on Sunday morning

Background
This paper had reported that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) had sent an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), claiming Metro III would barely have any ecological impact since there was no wildlife to speak of at the site (‘Did MMRC lie to get Rs 5,000 cr from Japan for Metro?’, February 12).

mid-day’s report on February 12
mid-day’s report on February 12

About a week later, activists spotted black kites listed under the Wildlife Act as well perched on trees in the proposed plot near Picnic Point (‘Activists spot black kites at Aarey Metro III site’, February 18). However, the sighting of the snake is far more crucial to the dispute, since the Indian rock python enjoys protection at par with tigers and other endangered animals under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act.

The sighting
As a resident of Marol, which is contiguous with Aarey Colony, Yogendra Satam has always been appreciative of Aarey’s natural wealth. While the 28-year-old is a commando with Mumbai Police’s quick response team (QRT), his keen interest in nature also pushed him to study biodiversity in Aarey and develop skills as a snake rescuer.

In fact, Satam often gets calls for snake rescues in Aarey, and this is exactly what happened around 9.30 am on Sunday, when residents living close to the Metro site informed him that there was a snake in the grassland there. By 9.45 am, Satam reached the spot and found a python about three to four feet long.

According to him, the Metro site could well be the python’s home, and the car depot’s construction could eventually render other pythons homeless as well. “The grassland acts as a habitat to many wild creatures and Indian rock pythons must be nesting in the same area,” said Satam.

'Obvious lie'
MMRC chairman Ashwini Bhide had said the EIA report sent to Japan had been prepared with great care, after conducting proper surveys and studies. However, according to Aam Aadmi Party member, Mona Ambegaonkar, the report is wrong and perhaps had even been “deliberately falsified”.

“I came to know about the sighting of the reptile at the car depot site, after which I requested Yogendra to take pictures of it with proof of time and date,” said Ambegaonkar, adding that she intends to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to save Aarey.

Expert speak
“Indian rock python is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act, and protected at par with tigers, rhinos and other endangered animals. Our experience has shown very good snake biodiversity in Aarey, including some uncommon species such as Forstern’s cat snake and Slender coral snake.

Some arboreal (tree-dwelling) species like green vine snake need continuous tree canopy cover to survive, while grasslands are just as important to species like green keelback and cobras,” said Kedar Bhide, founder and president of the Reptile Rescue and Study Centre (RRSC).

'Not the first time'
Satam told mid-day that over the years, he has rescued snakes from several different species from the grassland at the car depot site, including the Indian rock python, spectacled cobra, checkered keelback, Russell’s viper, etc.

Voices

Mona Ambegaonkar, AAP member
With the Indian rock python being a Schedule I-protected species, like the Tiger, it’s obvious that the EIA report attached to the Metro III yard project is fake, and perhaps it was even deliberately falsified. As such, the entire project should be shifted out of the Aarey Colony, and the work being carried out there must be stopped at once.

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