The private land at Royal Palms the state is eyeing for the car depot is a hitherto unknown wildlife corridor between Film City and Aarey Milk Colony that sees daily leopard activity
The big cat’s lair is a blind spot for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) Metro plans. On Thursday, the MMRC issued a statement that the state government is thinking of taking over a private plot of Royal Palms in Goregaon to set up the proposed car depot of Metro-III, after the ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) declared Aarey Milk Colony an ecologically-sensitive zone recently.
The new plan has raised environmentalists’ hackles further. Wildlife experts believe that the Royal Plams plot, just 2.5 km from the original site for the car shed, is a largely unexplored territory that is home to a number of leopards. They feel that a wildlife corridor exists between the Film City helipad point and Aarey Milk Colony passing via Royal Palms and any new development in the area may spark human-leopard conflicts.
There have been frequent leopard sightings at Royal Palms in Aarey Milk Colony. Pic/ Steven Van Dortmond
In her statement, Ashwini Bhide, managing director of MMRC, said the Royal Palms has offered against compensation a 66-acre plot for the car depot. “The state government is very keen to avoid metro car depot construction in an eco-sensitive zone. If the land offered by the owners of Royal Palms provides a feasible and viable option, the state government will consider it within the framework of the Development Plan and the Development Control Regulations.” She said the MMRC has completed a preliminary survey and technical evaluation of Royal Palms to study operational feasibility.
Home of the big cat
The MMRC may, however, bite off more than it can chew. There is substantial evidence of leopard activity at Royal Palms. A number of videos of sightings of leopards in the non-operational villas of Royal Palms have made it to Youtube. A team of researchers that has been monitoring leopard activity for the Thane forest department with the help of camera traps at Aarey Milk Colony for over 18 months now has spotted nine leopards in the area, and believes that the animals could be using a path through Royal Palms.
Researcher Rajesh Sanap from the team says the researchers have not been able to set up camera traps inside Royal Palms since it is a private property, Maroshipada, which abuts the property, has reported frequent leopard activity. “It’s possible that there is a wildlife corridor between Film City and Aarey Colony passing through Royal Palms on the eastern boundary of Aarey Colony. There should not be any new development, including establishment of a car depot, at Royal Palms or anywhere in Aarey because more development means decrease in space for animal activity. If we encroach into the animals’ space, then we should not blame them in case of conflicts.”
Stalin D from NGO Vanasahakti and member of the citizen-driven Save Aarey conservation group echoed the same opinion. “All of Aarey Milk Colony, including Royal Palms, has been shown as a non-development zone in the draft notification on ecologically-sensitive areas prepared by the MoEF. The car depot cannot come up on an ecologically-sensitive zone,” he said.
June: Residents of Royal Palms see a leopard roaming in a balcony
June 16: A visitor spots a leopard sitting on the wall a villa in the evening
Nov 5: A 55-year old woman is killed by a leopard at Maroshipada, 100 m from Royal Palms
Jan: A 25-year-old woman who had gone to a community tap to fill pots is attacked by a leopard near Khambyachapada, 200 m from Royal Palms. She sustains serious injuries
>> Vinod Ramji Hadal (19), a resident of Maroshipada in Aarey Colony, is injured after a leopard attacks him while urinating just a few feet away from his house and 100 m from the boundary of Royal Palms
Feb 2: A video of leopard, reportedly shot in Royal Palms, posted on Youtube
Feb 17: Another video posted on Youtube
Oct: Hiya Mhase (4) is killed by a leopard in Khadakpada, 500-700 m from the proposed new car depot site and 800 m from Royal Palms
>> Sunil Bhor (10) is injured by a leopard at Navpada, 300 m from same site and 1 km from Royal Palms
A leopard cub dies in Aarey Colony in a road accident