Wildlife dispute won't delay Mumbai Metro III: Authorities

As reported by mid-day, with MMRC allegedly lying about wildlife at the Metro III site in Aarey Colony, the project’s funding could be in jeopardy; but authorities are confident that it will progress on schedule

Just yesterday, mid-day reported that funding for the Metro line III may be delayed, as the Japanese body that was to provide nearly Rs 5,000 crore for the project will now investigate allegations that the Metro authorities lied about wildlife at the Metro site in Aarey Colony in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

MMRC claimed in its report to the Japanese funding agency that there was no wildlife at the proposed Metro car depot site in Aarey Colony, despite leopards being sighted 200-500 metres away. File pic mid-day’s report yesterday
MMRC claimed in its report to the Japanese funding agency that there was no wildlife at the proposed Metro car depot site in Aarey Colony, despite leopards being sighted 200-500 metres away. File pic mid-day’s report yesterday

Despite this, Metro officials are convinced that the project will progress as per schedule and should be completed by 2020. In the report, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) claimed that there was “no wildlife” at the proposed Metro car depot site near Picnic Point in Aarey Colony despite leopards being sighted several times in the vicinity (‘Did MMRC lie to get Rs 5,000 cr from Japan for Metro?’, mid-day, February 12).

The report was sent to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to secure a loan of R4,700 crore for the construction of Metro III (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz corridor). However, JICA has now said it will investigate the authenticity of the EIA report, after environmentalists from the Save Aarey Milk Colony group complained to the Japanese body.

Now, the Save Aarey Milk colony group has also decided to send a copy of mid-day’s report on February 12 to JICA, to inform the body of the details of the environmental dispute. “We are confident that the actual construction of the Metro line III will begin by March 2016.

Most of the requisite permissions and in-principle approvals from the related authorities are in hand; land acquisition from the government is at an advanced stage. In view of all the preparedness, we are confident of completing the project in the stipulated period,” said MMRC chairman Ashwini Bhide.

When asked about the scientific procedure or method that was used to prepare the environmental report for JICA, Bhide said the MMRC had conducted elaborate environment and geological impact assessment studies.

“The team that prepared the report has followed all the procedures that need to be followed, but off hand, I don’t have information about the exact procedure or methods,” she said, adding further that since JICA was serious about environment protection in any project they assisted financially, the report had been prepared with care, and all its information is true.

But when this reporter asked another senior official to explain how leopards had been sighted 200-500 metres from the Metro car shed site, he said the big cats had probably “strayed” there. “Sanjay Gandhi National Park is home to leopards and due to Aarey Milk Colony’s close proximity to it, there are chances that leopards must have strayed out of the park and gone to Aarey,” said the official.

‘Willing to listen’
On the other hand, facing mounting opposition, the authorities seem to be going on the back foot, and said they are willing to listen to people who can share information about wildlife sightings near the car depot plot.

Heritage value
Addressing a press conference at the MMRC headquarters in Bandra-Kurla Complex, officials said the Metro III project would pose no threat to heritage structures, and proper rehabilitation would be undertaken for the project affected persons (PAPs).

“We have already done a proper survey of the heritage structures, old buildings, and resettlement of PAPs; we are confident that Metro line III tunnelling work will not cause any problem,” said R Ramana, from MMRC.

When asked about the project’s impact on old structures and residents in Girgaon and Kalbadevi, the chairman, Ashwini Bhide said, “Team MMRC has adequate experience of rehabilitation of PAPs.”

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