On Sunday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government has decided to move the proposed car-shed for the underground Metro 3 rail out of Aarey. This has long been a contentious issue between environmental activists and the government.
The tussle has been ongoing since 2014. While the 33.5-km underground Metro 3 is an ambitious project connecting Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ, the location for the car-shed was identified as Aarey — 1,800-plus acres of green space in suburban Goregaon, which is home to 290 species wild of flora and fauna, and surrounded on many sides by concrete structures.
On October 4 last year, the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions challenging the decision to cut trees at Aarey. The petitioners had questioned the propriety and legality of the BMC Tree Authority’s permission, and asked for Aarey to be declared a flood plain and a forest. Within hours of the court’s decision, the MMRCL (an SPV executing the underground project) axed 2,135 trees in 24 hours. This led to activists and Aarey locals pouring out on the street, protesting under the ‘Save Aarey’ banner. The then BJP-led government (the Shiv Sena was part of it but opposed to the tree-felling) invoked Section 144 in Aarey, which is home to about 10,000 people living in its 27 tribal hamlets, and deployed about 500 policemen. Twenty-nine protesters were arrested, but released on bail following directions of the Supreme Court.
Activists argue that Aarey is an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and that the car-shed would pave the way for greater commercial exploitation of the area.
Thackeray announced on Sunday that the government had decided to move the car-shed out of Aarey to Kanjurmarg, an eastern suburb. He said the car-shed will be relocated to a plot of government land for which the government will incur no extra cost, a claim senior BJP leader Kirit Somaiya has contested.
On September 1, Thackeray had said the government would designate a 600-acre parcel of land in the heart of urban Mumbai as a reserve forest. On Sunday, he said the government had decided to expand the reserve forest in Aarey from 600 acres to 800 acres.
Third, he said the government would withdraw the criminal cases registered against the 29 protesters arrested last October.