Save Aarey: Activists identify litigation-free plot in Kanjurmarg for Metro car depot

Mar 08, 2016, 07:15 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

With the state blatantly pushing for the Metro-III carshed at Aarey forest, activists, who have identified a 97-hectare litigation-free plot in Kanjurmarg, are now questioning the government's motive

With authorities going back to their original plan of building the Metro III car depot in Aarey Colony by claiming that the alternative plot in Kanjurmarg won’t be freed up anytime soon, activists have done the government a favour and identified another litigation — and encroachment-free plot in Kanjurmarg.

The 97-hectare plot is under the ownership of the state government
The 97-hectare plot is under the ownership of the state government

On Saturday, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) held a board meeting to discuss the car depot issue. The contentious Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor has been on hold since activists launched protests against the environmental damage that would be caused if the car depot were to be built in Aarey Colony. Not only would close to 1,000 trees have to be cut across 24 hectares, but the local biodiversity would also be severely affected.

A satellite image of the plot in Kanjurmarg
A satellite image of the plot in Kanjurmarg

Alternative site
Following this, the chief minister ordered experts to find an alternate site, and a plot in Kanjurmarg was suggested as an option. But the MMRC used the convenient excuse that the plot was under litigation, and pitched for its plan to build the double-decked depot in Aarey. MMRC also invoked the other bogey: Cost escalation. If the project was to be delayed any further, the authorities said, the project cost would go up exponentially. But green warriors, who have fought off every attempt to concretise Aarey so far, have now done the MMRC’s job for it.

“There is a huge chunk of land available near Jai Ambe Nagar in Kanjurmarg East, close to the Eastern Express Highway, where the car depot can be easily constructed,” said environmentalist Stalin D, from the NGO Vanashakti and Save Aarey Conservation Group. “The authorities should study the same; they should not be under the impression that there won’t be any opposition if the car depot is constructed in Aarey.”

‘There is a plot’
The activists have provided a satellite image of the 97-hectare plot that is litigation-free, and helpfully pointing out to the MMRC that the land belongs to the government and has been handed over to the state by the Revenue Department. More than 80 per cent of this land is free of any encroachment, they added.

The CM is yet to make the final decision on the carshed. There is still no permission for construction in Aarey, as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is hearing a petition in the matter. A further roadblock to the Aarey plan is the ‘Eco Sensitive Zone’ tag that has been accorded to Aarey by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest in its draft notification.

Naturalist and researcher Rajesh Sanap said, “We are not opposing the project but why can’t the bureaucrats understand that development should not be done at the cost of environment and wildlife. Aarey is not only rich in biodiversity but it is also one of the last surviving green spaces in Mumbai, which is important for the citizens as there are hardly any open spaces left. Rather than destroying Aarey, the government should take measures to protect its forested patch.”

Motive questioned
Making it clear that they will not roll over without a fight, the activists have now begun to question the government’s very motive.

“Authorities want to destroy Aarey,” said Stalin. “By bringing in the car shed, they want to give a back-door entry to other development activities in Aarey. The revenue department has handed over the land to the state government. Kanjurmarg is the most suitable option as there are hardly any trees compared to the area of plot and 90 per cent of the plot is grassland and only 25-30 hectare of the area can be used for car depot and the best part is it won’t require cutting trees.”

Stalin also wondered why the MMRC was in such a hurry when the NGT is still hearing the matter. Environmentalist Anand Pendharkar from NGO SPROUTS, too, said the speed at which MMRC is moving was worrisome.

“Why is the MMRC hell bent on forcing its way into Aarey when the CM-appointed committee, experts, and even the public are all saying that Aarey is an important grassland ecosystem and carbon sink for Mumbai city?” he asked. “This is a murderous and arrogant move by officials who seem to have no concern for the health and future of Mumbaikars.”

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