Angry activists accuse Shinde-BJP government of doublespeak, obfuscation as new request for chopping 177 trees—without mentioning their location—is unearthed
A file picture of a spot where trees were cut in Aarey Milk Colony. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) has approached the tree authority seeking permission to remove 177 trees from the car depot site for Metro line 3 at the Aarey Milk Colony. Environmentalists have alleged the exact location where the trees will be cut or transplanted from— whether inside car depot, outside, or elsewhere—has not been mentioned. They accused the government and MMRCL of lying to people when they said not a single tree will be touched for the car shed.
The Tree Authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has published a notice from the K East ward, to get approval from the municipal commissioner/chairman for removal of the trees.
The information of the trees for cutting/transplanting in this proposal is available on the BMC website. “On account of pandemic COVID-19, citizens are requested to send the objections/suggestions on Email firstname.lastname@example.org on or before Dt. 23/01/2023 only instead of attending hearing personally on Dt. 23/01/2023. Objections/suggestions received after this date will not be entertained which may please be noted,” (SIC) states the notice.
Citizens protest the chopping of trees for the Metro car shed in Aarey. File pic/Sameer Markande
According to the proposal on the site, the application has been filed by MMRCL seeking permission for removal of trees obstructing the work at Sariput Nagar, Aarey Colony for Metro Line-3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) in K/East ward.
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The proposal states that there are a total of 185 trees on site of which 124 will be cut and 53 will be transplanted.
‘Long, scandalous history’
City-based green activist Zoru Bhathena, who is also a member of Aarey Conservation Group said, “Earlier former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that no more trees were needed to be cut in Aarey Milk Colony at the car depot side. Last year when the government changed, the MMRCL in its affidavit informed the Supreme Court that they need to process permission for 80 more trees. Now the MMRCL proposal mentions trees at Sariput Nagar for Metro line 3. But they have not mentioned the exact location from where the trees will be transplanted or cut. So are they going to transplant and cut trees from the car depot site, or outside it, or some other location?”
Bhathena alleged that the removal of trees for the Metro 3 car depot at Aarey Milk colony has a long and scandalous history. He explained, “In 2014, the government informed the Bombay High Court that only 250 trees will be cut. In 2015, the government’s own technical committee recommended that only 500 trees should be removed. By 2018-19, these numbers increased to 3,000. In October 2019, the government falsely contended that all these 3,000 trees were cut, and not a single more tree needed to be cut. Later, work was stopped and the forest rejuvenated.”
‘SC only hope’
“In June 2022 the government made a public statement that not a single additional tree will be cut and in July 2022 thousands of old and new trees were mercilessly hacked at the site, in blatant contempt of Supreme Court orders. In November 2022, the government sought permission to process the removal of an additional 84 trees and in January 2023, the government is now seeking permission to remove 177 more trees. The SC is the last bastion of justice for our forests. We can only hope that the SC will see through the government’s activities and put a stop to the wrongdoings for Metro 3,” he added.
In November 2022, the Supreme Court had modified its order to maintain the status quo about tree felling in Aarey Milk Colony, permitting the MMRCL to approach the relevant authority to cut down 84 trees for the metro car shed project. It is said that felling of 84 trees was needed for construction of ramps for the trains at Aarey.
‘SC, too, ignores’
Environmentalist Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti said, “Our assertions that MMRCL is lying about the actual number of trees that will be sacrificed in Aarey has been proven right. Close to another 1,000 trees will be removed. From 84 they have jumped to 177 as the new figure. The real damage is when the trees will be massacred under the cloak of transplantation. Fadnavis and the MMRCL officials have lied through their teeth when they told people time and again that not a single tree will be touched for the car shed. What adds insult to injury is that even the SC has chosen not to take cognisance of the misleading perjury committed by MMRCL. The entire system has closed ranks to needlessly plunder the forests of Aarey.”
Abhay Azad from the Aarey Conservation Group said, “The MMRCL is one public private utility that is functioning haphazardly. In this day and age, they advertised they are only taking 2% of the Aarey land which is now equivalent to killing almost 5,000 trees.”
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MMRCL tells Tree Authority, it needs permission to remove 177 trees, without mentioning where