Will leopards save Mumbai's green lung? Battle to save Aarey goes international

Updated: Sep 09, 2019, 08:35 IST | Chetna Yerunkar, Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Using data from forest department that confirms seven leopards were rescued from Aarey Colony in the last three years, city NGO writes to global wildlife watchdog, IUCN, seeking intervention

Activists fighting against the proposed Metro III carshed in Aarey Colony are knocking on the doors of international fora to highlight the issue. Empower Foundation (EF), a city non-profit, has written to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, known for its 'Red List' database of endangered species and its efforts to conserve wildlife.

Founded in 1948, the Switzerland-headquartered IUCN has 1,300 governmental and non-governmental organisations as its members. IUCN's Red List classifies the leopard as a 'vulnerable species.' Any drastic decrease in the world leopard population will put it in the 'Being Endangered' bracket. In its plea to the Union government and IUCN, EF has used information obtained under Right to Information Act to argue that destruction of trees in Aarey will deprive Mumbai's leopards of their natural habitat.

Also Read: How Shiv Sena is trying all tricks to cut Aarey tree-cutting

Protesters gathered at the proposed car shed site on Sunday in support of the Save Aarey movement. Pics/Prajakta Kasale/Datta Kumbhar
Protesters gathered at the proposed car shed site on Sunday in support of the Save Aarey movement. Pics/Prajakta Kasale/Datta Kumbhar

Citizens and activists have upped the ante in the battle to save Aarey Colony following an August 29 decision by the Tree Authority to cut around 2,700 trees. The protests have also renewed a demand to shift the proposed Metro III car shed to Kanjurmarg, which has already been earmarked to host the carshed for Metro VI.

EF obtained data from an RTI reply by the Range Forest Officer, Thane Forest Division in May 2019, which says seven leopards have been rescued from Aarey Colony in the last three years. Using this data, the NGO pleaded the Centre to instruct the Maharashtra government and other allied agencies involved in construction activity in the area to immediately stop work.

Protesters gathered at the proposed car shed site on Sunday in support of the Save Aarey movement

The letter also says that the leopard is an endangered species under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA). As per the Act, no construction work can be carried out within 10 kilometres from the boundaries of sanctuaries and national parks without the approval of the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife. The Eco-Sensitive Zone of Aarey is less than four kilometres away from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, but officials have been maintaining that it is not a forest or an eco-sensitive zone, despite the proven presence of leopards and other wildlife.

"Many citizens, and a few in the government doubt whether Aarey is a forest or not," said Jalpesh Mehta, founder, EF. "The Forest Department and Government of Maharashtra confirming that seven leopards were trapped or rescued in Aarey in the last three years is the biggest proof that Aarey is a forest and a natural habitat for the leopard and other endangered and exotic species of wildlife."

Mehta said that as per the WPA and the Biodiversity Act, it is the duty of the government to conserve these habitats. In the IUCN's Red List, leopards are on the same stage of endangerment as lions. "We, as a country, need to ensure that we protect and conserve our wildlife," said Mehta. "It is to gain international attention to the state of leopards that we have sent a copy to IUCN, highlighting the entire issue."

Also Read: Aarey Milk Colony: Protests vs change of land use

Aug 29
Day decision to cut down 2,700-odd trees in Aarey got the govt nod

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