Mumbai Police arrests 29 activists protesting tree cutting at Aarey Colony; leaders across party lines slam state govt

  • Twenty nine were arrested as clashes broke out between the police and activists in Mumbai's Aarey Colony

  • Protests began after the MMRCL began cutting down trees in Aarey Colony on Friday night, after the Bombay HC quashed petitions challenging the construction of a car shed.

  • The events also triggered a political slugfest with many political parties, including the Shiv Sena lashing out at the ruling BJP government

Twenty nine were arrested on Friday and Saturday as clashes broke out between police and activists protesting the felling of trees for a proposed Mumbai Metro car shed at the Aarey Colony in north Mumbai.

The protests which began after the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) began cutting down trees on Friday night, also triggered a political slugfest with many political parties, including the Shiv Sena, lashing out at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

 Mumbai Police arrests 29 activists protesting tree cutting at Aarey Colony; leaders across party lines slam state govt

Police detain activists who were staging a protest against the tree-cutting, being carried out for the Metro car shed project, at Aarey colony in Mumbai. PTI

According to PTI, the protests were triggered after a video showing a tree being cut there was widely circulated on social media. The tree cutting began hours after the Bombay High Court on Friday refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and also declined to quash the BMC Tree Authority's decision allowing the felling of over 2,600 trees in the suburban green zone to pave way for a metro carshed.

Nearly 300 people gathered at the site as some activists removed barricades to enter the plot in order to stop the felling of trees by authorities and were later lathicharged, as per the report.

AAP leader Preeti Sharma Menon told Firstpost that the police cordoned off the area and detained anyone who tried to enter.

Reema Shah, a member of the Aarey Conservation Group, recounted the protest on Friday night. "We were at the entrance and people weren't allowed to enter. Soon, a lot of people gathered at the gate. Once, people even managed to push through. Sometime after that (about an hour or so later), they pushed the public away from the gates," she said.

Even as clashes between the protestors and the police continued, MMRC Managing Director Ashwini Bhide dismissed the activists' contention that a fresh notice was needed before cutting trees in Aarey Colony and urged them to accept their defeat "honourably".

On Saturday, the police imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Aarey Colony, restricting movements and gathering of groups, and cordoned off the area. Several people, including NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad, Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi, Sena leader and former mayor Shubha Raul, were detained at the site.

Menon also claimed that seven to eight girl students were detained by the police overnight and charges were framed against them only in the morning. "Those detained on Friday night were released by the police. 20-30 people arrested after 3 am have been taken to Aarey and Dahisar police stations. Cognisable offences have been filed against them. Many of them are students, and some of them have their examinations on Monday," she added.

Activists also tried to get relief from the Bombay High Court, by approaching the court again on Saturday and seeking a stay on tree cutting, so that they could approach the Supreme Court. However, they suffered a second setback as the bench of Justices SC Dharmadhikari and AK Menon, who granted the petitioners an urgent hearing in the chamber, refused to grant a stay and told the petitioners to take up the matter with the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.

At least 38 protesters were booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from duty) and 143 (unlawful assembly) as the police alleged that the protestors resorted to violence and even manhandled police officers. Twenty-nine of those booked, including six women, were arrested, even as a woman officer who was reportedly injured in the scuffle.

They were subsequently remanded to judicial custody by the Borivali Court, with the hearing in the matter scheduled for 7 October.

On their part, some protesters accused police personnel of high-handed behaviour — a charge denied by the Mumbai Police. "There is heavy police deployment in the area. No one is allowed to enter Aarey Colony. Even tourists are being stopped," said an activist. In a tweet, Shiv Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi tagged Mumbai Police and said, "I have been forcibly evicted by the cops and I wasn't even breaking the law! The cops in the car wont even tell me where I am being taken ... this is insane."

The events soon acquired a political hue, with Opposition parties slammed the ruling Sena-BJP, stating they failed to save the trees. Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray also criticised the MMRCL and backed the protesters. Aaditya, who is contesting the 21 October Maharashtra Assembly election from Worli in south-central Mumbai, extended his support to the protesters. "The vigour with which the Mumbai Metro 3 is slyly and swiftly cutting down an ecosystem in Aarey is shameful and disgusting. How about posting these officials in PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) giving them charge to destroy terror camps rather than trees?" he asked.

Opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress accused the Shiv Sena and BJP of failing to save trees in Aarey. "Where were fake environment lovers, who championed ban on plastic, when the tree felling started?" NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik asked, tagging Aaditya Thackeray and the BJP.

"It is not right to talk about climate change on one hand and to cut down trees silently in the night on the other," said NCP MP Supriya Sule, while urging Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to intervene.

"This is the time. You are in the government, can stop this. The Mahayuti (mega alliance) is more important or the mega loss of trees?" Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant tweeted, addressing the Shiv Sena.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar backed the proposed Metro shed in Aarey forest area and said that development and environment protection should be done together.

Drawing parallels between the development of Delhi Metro and Mumbai Metro, he said, "The High Court has ruled that Aarey is not a forest. Metros in Delhi today are one of the best metros across the world. How does it develop? When the first metro station was constructed, 20-25 trees were cut down. People then protested against it."

"But Metro has planted five trees for every single tree that it has taken down. Now, there are 271 stations. Forest cover area has increased in Delhi. Thirty lakh people are using the metro as public transport. This is the mantra of development and protecting the environment. Both should go together," the BJP leader said.

The MMRCL has defended tree felling by contending that it restricted only to a small area in Aarey Colony, and it is necessary to ensure a modern transport system for Mumbaikars. The proposed car shed for the Metro-3 line (Colaba- Bandra-Seepz) will occupy 33 hectares.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2019 23:43:28 IST