'People Will Rise Again': Climate Activists on Shinde's Aarey Car Shed Order

Eknath Shinde’s decision to move the metro shed back to the Aarey Colony has sounded alarm bells for residents.

5 min read
Hindi Female

As Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the new Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, respectively, on Thursday evening, 25-year-old Tanmay Shinde sat in his drawing room in Mumbai, worried about a cause he has been associated with since 2017 – the Save Aarey Movement.

"When we saw the fall of the Uddhav Thackrey government, we knew this was coming," said Tanmay, an environmentalist and IT professional.

He was referring to the new government's decision to take the Mumbai metro car shed back to Aarey Colony – scrapping the previous government's decision to relocate it to Kanjurmarg village.

The Aarey forest, which is located in northern suburbs of Mumbai within the eco sensitive zone of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is home to vulnerable species — leopards, sambar deer, and dozens of types of butterflies, among others — and consists of 27 tribal hamlets.

The Save Aarey Movement started in 2014 and saw people from all walks of life come together to save the city's lungs. Over the years, the tribals living near Aarey have lost their land to projects such as the National Security Guard (NSG) training centre, Film City, and housing, complexes.

In 2019, however, the then-BJP-Shiv Sena government's proposal to construct a metro car shed which would have resulted in cutting down of over 2,000 trees in Aarey colony led to widespread protests.

  • 01/02

    Tanmay Shinde along with several other protesters during the 2019 Save Aarey Movement.

    (Photo: Tanmay Shinde/Accessed by The Quint)

  • 02/02

    Protesters form a human chain outside the Aarey Colony in Mumbai in 2019.

    (Photo: Tanmay Shinde/Accessed by The Quint)


The decision taken by the new government on 30 June in the first cabinet meeting held merely hours after coming to power has sounded alarm bells for Aarey residents, and environmental and climate activists, who say that the if need be, the people will rise again.

The Aarey Controversy: A Timeline

Environmental activist Zoru Bhatena, 47, was among those who protested the proposal to build a car shed at Aarey in 2019 when Fadnavis was the Chief Minister of the state.

“At the time, his government came up with the narrative that the car shed can only be built in Aarey. Many of us activists pointed out that a depot or a car shed – where you park your train bogies – can be constructed anywhere. The Thackeray government found alternatives and that hurt Fadnavis' ego,” said Bhatena.

The tussle started in October 2019 when residents near Aarey Colony staged massive protests after authorities from Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cut down over 2,000 trees in the area for constructing the Metro-3 line car shed.

Both Tanmay and Bhatena were a part of these protests. "At the time, I saw how metal sheets were used to cordon off the forest area and trees were numbered for felling. Many were even felled. It was disheartening," said Tanmay.

Amid these protests, the Bombay High Court rejected pleas by activists seeking a stay on the cutting of trees at Aarey. The activists and protesters then approached the Supreme Court. The top court put an interim stay on the felling of trees and asked the government to maintain status quo.

Fadnavis, however, rebutted the claim, and alleged that the shifting of the car depot will hamper the frequency of operations of both Line-3 and Line-6 of the metro, and will inflate the cost by over Rs 1,000 crore.

Eknath Shinde’s decision to move the metro shed back to the Aarey Colony has sounded alarm bells for residents.

In October 2019 residents near Aarey Colony staged massive protests after authorities from Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cut down over 2,000 trees in the area for constructing the Metro-3 line car shed.

(Photo: Facebook)

The Maharashtra government's order to shift the car shed to Kanjurmarg prompted the Centre to file a petition in the Bombay High Court in December 2020 challenging it. In its plea, the Centre claimed that the proposed land belonged to the Centre's Salt Department. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, however, claimed that the land in question belonged to the state.

As a result, the Bombay High Court stayed the construction of the metro car shed in Kanjurmarg.

'Where Will The Natives Go?'

The Shinde-BJP government's decision on 30 June to bring back the car shed to Aarey has taken Manisha Dhinde, 22, back to uncertainty. Dhinde is an Adivasi student climate activist who lives with her family near the Aarey Colony. "Aarey is home to rare and vulnerable species of animals, birds, and plants but more importantly, it is a source of livelihood for people from the Adivasi communities who depend on the forest. Where will we go?" she asked.

Eknath Shinde’s decision to move the metro shed back to the Aarey Colony has sounded alarm bells for residents.

In 2019, Manisha Dhinde and several other protesters were detained by the Mumbai Police during Save Aarey protests.

(Photo: Manisha Dhinde/Accessed by The Quint)

Dhinde was detained by the Mumbai Police in 2019 when she joined Tanmay, Bhatena and thousands of other citizens to protests the construction of the car shed.

Despite the detention, Dhinde and others like her did not give up on the cause for months. "The tribals never benefit from these development projects and nobody cares about us. If the project restarts, as responsible citizens and stakeholders, we will come together and fight it again," she said.


'Politics of Vengeance'

Tanmay Shinde, Manisha Dhinde, and Zoru Bhatena believe that the relocation of the car shed to Aarey is less about infrastructural development and more about politics.

"Mumbai is one of the most vulnerable cities in India and across the world as far as climate change is concerned. We are facing the brunt of rising sea levels, annual flooding, and a host of other issues. Amid this, the government's decision to axe a forest for any kind of infrastructural project is condemnable. We should rise above politics," said Tanmay.

Bhatena also feels that the reason why relocation of the metro car shed was one of the first decisions of the Shinde-Fadnavis government after assuming power is because it was also one of the first decisions taken by the Thackeray government after it assumed office in 2019.

"In this politics of vengeance, common people are the real victims. It took years of hard work and protests by common people in Mumbai to spread awareness regarding the importance of the Aarey forest. We were not led by a political party or a pressure group. It was a spontaneous movement and the government must respect the will of its people," Bhatena said.

For Dhinde, saving Aarey is integral to her identity as a tribal and a young climate activist. "If the government doesn't listen, people will rise again. We will not give up," she said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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