Mumbai: With sudden rise in forest fires in Aarey Colony, locals smell a rat
Activists and residents have alleged that the sudden spate of fires in Aarey Colony’s forested patches were caused to further vested interests, be it land grabbing or preventing future environmental disputes
A sudden rise in incidents of forest fires in Aarey Milk Colony in the past few weeks has sparked several conspiracy theories amongst local residents and environmentalists, who suspect that the fires are being lit deliberately by certain elements to further their vested interests.
Kaushal Dubey, a nature lover associated with the NGO SARRP, examines a tree that was partly charred in Tuesday night’s fire. Dubey had called the fire brigade when he saw the fire around 12.30 am. Pic/Sameer Markande
Many also alleged that the local police and Aarey authorities were turning a blind eye to the fires, helping the miscreants get away scot-free. The most recent incident took place yesterday, near the Aarey Colony CEO office in Unit No 4.
Nature lover Imran Udat, however, extinguished the fire and prevented it from spreading. Just the night before, there was another blaze near the VIP guesthouse that severely damaged several trees before the fire brigade could douse the flames.
There have been several such episodes recently, including an incident on Friday in which a two-acre forested patch was damaged. Environmentalists allege that fires did not occur naturally and were instead lit on purpose, causing immense damage to the flora and fauna.
“Such fires in forests not to be confused with forest fires, the term used for naturally occurring incidents during summer months can cause permanent loss of biodiversity, especially of ground-dwelling creatures such as snakes, snails, geckos, bugs, etc and all the subsoil invertebrates, especially earthworms,” said Anand Pendharkar, from the NGO Sprouts, adding further, “It can also destroy the soil’s fertility by killing all microflora and microfauna and seeds of local species.
These fires can be bad for the dairy, too, as the grass growing capacity diminishes.” Some alleged the fires were set off to prevent a proper biodiversity study, alluding to the ongoing environmental clash over the Metro Line III and other future projects in Aarey proposed in the new Development Plan.
Locals alleged that someone was deliberately trying to destroy the forest patches so that environmentalists and researchers cannot document the biodiversity in Aarey, which could form important evidence in court in such disputes. Others blamed land-grabbing tribals and land developers for the blazes.
Bharat Vyas, a nature lover who visits Aarey Colony every day, said, “We have seen many tribals lighting fires and damaging trees. Some even light fires at the base of the trees, so that they eventually die.” Stalin Dayanand, from the NGO Vanashakti, blamed land developers, saying, “The builder lobby is up to its old tricks.
The local police is not vigilant. They must act against such criminals. Sadly animals, and reptiles along with nesting birds will pay the price for such sadistic acts of vested interests.”
The other side
V R Pawar, the security officer at the Aarey Milk Colony CEO office, said, “We are already short-staffed and considering the size of Aarey Milk Colony, it is difficult to keep a tab on each and every thing.
We will keep a tab on the people and those who are found involved in lighting fires in the forest will be handed over to the police. Many times, we have also called the fire brigade to douse such fires.”
>> In Tuesday’s incident near the VIP guesthouse, 3-4 full-grown trees suffered 40% burns, 15-20 mid-size trees were 60-70% burnt, while 5-10 Ashoka trees were 5% burnt.
>> Two fire engines were sent from the Marol fire station around 12.30 am to douse the fire.
>> Last Friday, a 2-acre forested patch in Aarey was also destroyed in a fire.
>> In February, a forest fire was reported in Unit No 7 and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers approached the local police and fire stations to complain about it.
Jyoti Sharma, Member of the Save Aarey Milk Colony group
Fires have now been happening very frequently in Aarey. It is appalling that the guards and officials of Aarey management prefer to look the other way whenever any action is required. The officials appear to be in collusion with the miscreants; I say this because nothing in the world can justify their inaction. This is a systematic and planned murder.
Bharat Vyas nature lover
Last month I called Aarey CEO office’s security department to report a fire and I was asked to call the fire brigade. My request to the Aarey management is to manage the fire issue, as these blazes are mostly lit by tribals and anti-social elements.