Save Aarey: 'Tree of Life' at risk of being axed for Mumbai Metro III

Feb 24, 2015, 10:10 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

A rare Baobab tree is among the 2,298 trees that could be felled for the proposed Metro III car depot in Aarey Colony; activists have also spotted several species of uncommon insects and birds in the forest

Among the 2,298 trees that face the axe for the Metro line III car depot in Aarey Colony, is a rare Baobab tree that is at least 100 years old, and harks back to an even older era, when the Portuguese first brought the species over to the city all the way from Africa.

According to experts, there are currently fewer than 50 Baobabs in Mumbai, which makes it imperative that the tree at the Metro site in Aarey be saved.

A nature lover spotted this Baobab tree at the Metro III car depot site in Aarey Colony. Locals say it is at least 100 years old
A nature lover spotted this Baobab tree at the Metro III car depot site in Aarey Colony. Locals say it is at least 100 years old

The discovery of the tree comes less than a week after citizens spotted a group of black kites listed under the Wildlife Protection Act perched on trees at the car shed plot, even though the Metro authorities had claimed in an official report that there was no wildlife at the site (‘Activists spot black kites at Metro III site in Aarey’, February 18).

On Sunday, a nature lover visited the 30-hectare car depot site to collect information about the trees that are to be felled, but was shocked to see a Baobab there that will probably also be cut down.

Requesting anonymity, the nature lover told mid-day, “I am feeling really sad; because of this so-called development, the government is not only going to destroy the city’s important green cover, but in the process will also cut a Baobab tree.

I know that it is not an Indian tree, but there are very few Baobabs left in Mumbai and they should be protected.” The Baobab at the car depot site is at least a century old, said an 85-year-old local resident in one of the tribal padas in Aarey Colony.

Known as the ‘Tree of life’ by tribal communities in Africa, Baobabs can grow up to 98 feet and live to 3,000 years. They are easily identifiable by their massive trunks. “The Baobab tree is not a native Indian tree, but it was brought to India from Africa hundreds of years ago by the Portuguese.

They planted them wherever they set up their colonies. The trees were brought to India in the middle of 15th century. With around 50 such trees left in Mumbai, we should try and protect them,” said Dr Marselin Almeida, an eminent botanist in the city.

Other Baobabs can also be found near Bhabha Hospital in Bandra, near the Byculla zoo, in Colaba and also near the Seepz area. There is also another Baobab on the southbound stretch of Aarey road that goes towards Marol from Picnic Point.

Here’s some wildlife at Aarey, MMRC
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) had sent an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the Metro project’s funding partner, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), claiming that there is no wildlife at the Metro site in Aarey Colony.

Species such as the Indian Roller and the Red Cotton Bug were spotted by citizens on a nature trail at the site last week

Last week, however, a group of 40 people, including interns from NGO SPROUTS and Bhavan’s College Nature Club, went on a nature trail at the same location and spotted many species of wildlife at the car shed plot, including insects such as Red Cotton Bug Adult (mating), Common Emigrant, Chocolate Pansy, Plain Tiger, Common Sailor, and birds like Indian Roller, Common Hoopoe, Red tailed marsh hawk, etc.

“MMRC says that there is no wildlife at the site in Aarey, but we found species that are not commonly sighted, indicating healthy forest life,” said an intern from SPROUTS. While the authorities have not harmed the trees at the site, activists have raised concerns about how the remaining grassland is already being levelled, even though it also houses wildlife such as the Indian rock python and Russell’s viper, which are also protected by the law.

Meanwhile, facing mounting opposition for the project, the authorities have covered the car depot site with a green cloth screen and have also placed boards warning that trespassers will be prosecuted.

Cycle for Aarey
While the past weekend saw nature lovers take their pets for walks around the car depot site, this Sunday, the Save Aarey Milk Colony group is hosting a cycling event titled Tour De Aarey. Cyclists from all over Mumbai are expected to unite and ride together to press for the preservation of Aarey Colony’s green cover.

Members have also started interacting with local tribal leaders and will visit the padas to educate locals about the Metro car depot’s negative impact on the biodiversity of Aarey.

Activists will also launch a signature campaign and will send several petitions each signed by 200 people to the CM, demanding that Aarey be maintained as a No Development zone, and the car depot be shifted elsewhere.

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