Aarey controversy: How proposal for Mumbai Metro car shed in 'green lung' spawned political battle

The row over felling of trees at Aarey Milk colony began after 29 August 2019, when the BMC's Tree Authority gave permission to cut trees at the site

FP Staff October 12, 2020 20:23:06 IST
Aarey controversy: How proposal for Mumbai Metro car shed in 'green lung' spawned political battle

File image of Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

"Aarey saved!" — these were the emphatic words with which Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray welcomed the state government's decision to scrap the Mumbai Metro car shed at Aarey.

However, much of the damage at  Aarey Milk Colony — often termed as the metropolis' green lung — may already have been done, since most of the tree cutting that was proposed has already been completed. Therefore, the Maharashtra government's decision on Sunday was more of a political statement than anything else.

Indeed, the row over the proposed car shed at Aarey saw much political wrangling over the past year, particularly between the BJP and Shiv Sena.

How the political face-off unfolded

The controversy over felling of trees at Aarey Milk colony began after 29 August 2019, when the BMC's Tree Authority gave permission to cut trees at the site of the proposed (now scrapped) car shed. All the Shiv Sena members in the Tree Authority voted against the action, while the BJP and NCP members supported it.

A group of activists later approached the Bombay High Court challenging the Tree Authority's decision. However, on 4 October, the high court dismissed their petitions. Soon after the order was passed, Metro authorities acted with unusual swiftness and axed 2,135 trees in 24 hours.

This led Aaditya Thackeray, who had been at the forefront of the agitation against the tree cutting at the time, to remark —

However, strong words notwithstanding, the Shiv Sena did not make the scrapping of the car shed at Aarey a condition for its alliance with the BJP, unlike the issue of the Nanar refinery at Ratnagiri, as noted in an article in The Print.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered a status quo at the site, but the order made little difference to the actual situation, as 2,141 out of 2,185 trees were already cut.

Apart from political parties, several celebrities joined in the agitation to oppose the car shed, including Dia Mirza, Randeep Hooda, John Abraham and Shraddha Kapoor.

On the other hand, some actors such as Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar expressed support for the Mumbai Metro project.

Responding to such criticism, Ashwini Bhide, the then chief of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) began the campaign #AareyAikaNa (Hey, listen up). She questioned why protesters did not object to other instances of tree cutting and pointed out the environmental benefits of the metro rail projects.

However, with the Maha Vikas Aghadi government coming to power, the Aarey car shed project has now been scrapped and the government has also directed the withdrawal of cases against some of the protesters.

Present political positions

In a webcast on Sunday, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the project will be shifted to government land in Kanjurmarg and no cost will be incurred for the purpose. "The land will be available at zero rate," he said.

He said the building which has come up in Aarey forest will be utilised for some other public purpose. "About Rs 100 crore expenditure was incurred for the purpose and it won't go waste," he said.

"Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be conserved and protected. Nowhere is there an 800-acre jungle in an urban set up. Mumbai has a natural forest cover," he said.

On the other hand, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had consistently supported the car shed at Aarey, said that the decision was taken only to 'satisfy someone's ego' which will escalate the cost of the project by at least Rs 4,000 crore.

"Unfortunate decision to shift Metro car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg and that too just to satisfy the ego. This decision will increase the cost of the project by at least Rs 4,000 crore and this cost escalation is assessed by the committee appointed by this government," tweeted Fadnavis during whose tenure the work on the car shed began.

With inputs from PTI

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