Activists Seek Justice as SC Makes Way for Infra Projects in Aarey

The 407 acres opened up can now be used by the state for Metro and other infrastructure projects already lined up.

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Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony is set to lose 407 acres of green cover after the Supreme Court on 16 June dismissed a plea challenging the exclusion of Aarey colony from the eco-sensitive zone of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The 407 acres can now be used by the state for metro and other infrastructure projects already lined up.

In December 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had excluded 407 acres of land in Aarey colony from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The Centre did this by declaring that a minimum of up to 100 metres and a maximum of up to 4 km area from the boundary of the National Park was an eco-sensitive zone. These 407 acres that were located at the boundary of the National Park were left out.

Mumbai-based NGO Vanashakti challenged this in the National Green Tribunal that dismissed their plea stating that the law had been followed while demarcating the eco-sensitive zone. The NGO then challenged the order in the Supreme Court, which dismissed it as well.

“Justice was not delivered. The matter of fact is that the National Green Tribunal disposed of a case, an important public interest case involving the loss of 400 acres of forest in a very callous manner. Callous because none of the contesting parties, the applicants or respondents were present. The case was called up at short notice, called up before a bench which was not hearing the case, all kinds of things went wrong with it and what happened was a denial of natural justice. You cannot pass an adverse order against a litigant without hearing him,” said Vanashakti Director Stalin Dayanand.

“We took this matter to the SC saying that the NGT has unfairly dismissed us. What happens at the SC? They say we don’t find any reason to interfere with the NGT’s order. Now where do you go from here?”
Stalin Dayanand, Director, Vanashakti 

According to reports, approximately 60 acres of this land has been allotted for the metro-3 car shed. Over 120 acres of land has been earmarked for a zoo. About 90 acres of land is likely to be used for slum rehabilitation projects by MHADA and approximately 5 acres of it has been allocated for the Metro Bhavan.

Activists Seek Justice as SC Makes Way for Infra Projects in Aarey
(Graphic: The Quint/Shruti Mathur)

Felling of thousands of trees in Aarey before the Assembly elections in 2019 sparked massive protests across the city. This prompted even the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena to criticise the then Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision to allow the MMRCL to cut down trees for the metro car shed.

“My appeal to the Maharashtra government would be that please wake up now, time is running out for these forests. These forests are getting rapidly encroached and deforested. You can’t lose this. All you need is political will to save this forest.”
Stalin Dayanand, Director, Vanashakti 

The ‘Save Aarey’ Movement Continues

Since Aarey Milk Colony and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park are the only green lungs in a city that’s starved for open spaces, Mumbaikars like Stalin and others leading the ‘Save Aarey’ movement are not planning on giving up after this setback.

“The forests of Aarey are priceless to Mumbai. They give Mumbai lesser temperatures, better air quality, they absorb all the toxins, pollution, the dust, everything that the city generates. There’s green space for eco-tourism, so much of flora and fauna here and it is very much a wildlife zone. So many types of wildlife have been seen here. This is a great carbon sink, this is a catchment to rivers and you cannot destroy these,” says Stalin.

Activist Amrita Bhattacharya has another point, “This way, if we keep losing our natural areas piece by piece, that will be a huge loss to the city and will be a big threat for the survival of the citizens and the city itself.”

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