CM Devendra Fadnavis’ latest statement, that the car shed for Metro III is likely to be constructed in Aarey Milk Colony, has not only irked Mumbai's residents — many of whom took to the streets last year to object to the plan — but BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena.

A resident at a protest against the proposed Metro III car shed in March 2015
A resident at a protest against the proposed Metro III car shed in March 2015

On Friday, Fadnavis said the car shed was likely to come up at Aarey and the government was mulling whether to allow felling of 350 trees or to spend R1,500 crore more to save the trees. On Saturday, Union Forest and Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar also indicated that his ministry supported the state government.

Immediately after Javdekar’s statement at the 11th National Convention on Sustainable Development Goals in Mumbai, another guest at the function, Sena leader and state industry minister Subhash Desai told the media that the state government must lend an ear to the public which had expressed an outcry against the felling of trees at Aarey. He added that the Sena had been in discussions with the state and was looking at alternative plots for the project.

Speaking at the convention, Javdekar said, “There are sustainable solutions available to address the Metro car shed issue. Technology is now available to replant grown-up trees through mechanised uprooting and replanting them at an alternative site. Delhi Metro is a standing example in this regard, where for every one tree cut, five more were planted.”

Desai, however, insisted that his party would not let the carshed come up. “We are in a dialogue with the government and confident that the shed will be shifted to an alternate site.”

Last year, when Mumbai’s citizens expressed their outrage against the plans to fell Aarey’s trees, Sena’s youth wing chief Aditya Thackeray extended his support to their cause and promised to take up the issue with the government.

Environmental organisations have even identified a plot in litigation-free plot near Jai Ambe Nagar in Kanjurmarg East, hoping that the government will shift its focus away from Aarey.

Stalin D from NGO Vanasahakti said, “It’s not about 350 trees. We are against cutting even a single tree because it is avoidable. The CM has let the people down by not meeting them for over one year despite repeated attempts. The government has taken people for a ride. They are reigniting the conflict. People will oppose this backhand method of entering Aarey in order to destroy it under the guise of public good.”

Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine, said, “Mumbai’s forested areas are vital infrastructure against financial losses from floods and water shortages. Aarey is also a buffer for SGNP’s leopards. The worry is that if all new land for urban infrastructure comes from open spaces, the impact of climate change will negate all projected gains from metros, flyovers, sea-links or freeways.”

Members of various environmental and citizen’s groups are expected to meet on Sunday to decide on future strategy.