As the world is moving towards being a predominantly urban society, we need to realise the importance of urban forests in the cities. Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra, is the most populous city in India and is fortunate to have such parks. The people in Mumbai are drawn to visit this urban forest as it is one of the city’s few green lungs.
Situated in Goregaon, Mumbai, Aarey is a biotope which is a shelter for birds, tarantulas, scorpions, amphibians, butterflies and leopard. It is a part of the deciduous stretch of forest in between the hillocks and Sanjay Gandhi National Park. There are 77 species of birds like Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Grey Hornbill, Rosy Starlings, Glossy Ibis and Spotted Owlets. A total of 86 species of butterflies, 34 species of wildflowers, 46 species of reptiles, 13 species of amphibians and many such species of wildlife listed in Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act have been documented in Aarey. Hundreds of microhabitats thrive and survive here, and the place has a staggering diversity of scorpions and arachnids.
Aarey v/s MMRC and MMRDA
Unfortunately, in 2014, this beautiful forest has been earmarked by MMRC (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation) and MMRDA (Metropolitan Region Development Authority) for the construction of a metro car shed which would be spread over 28 hectares leading to the uprooting of around 2300 trees. As per the MMRDA, 2,044 trees could be transplanted while the rest would have to be cut off.
Save Trees of Aarey Mumbai
Many individual volunteers from different walks of life along with communities like Aarey Conversation Group, Save Aarey Community, Zoru Bathena have launched a campaign to ‘Save Trees of Aarey Mumbai’. These groups have been formed to help conserve this area in its natural state and to protect it from various developmental projects which could easily be relocated elsewhere. These campaigns have received support from all quarters and have been successful in raising awareness about the issue through rallies, public events, school and college programmes, social media and the creative arts, but the fight still continues.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, one of the volunteers of the Aarey Conservation Group Jyoti Sharma said, “I live close to Aarey and work on the town side. I feel fresh, happy rejuvenated when I am at home since the weather stays calm but when I travel to the other side for my work, it feels so hot and humid. There are many other areas where this shed can be constructed. The city loses an average of 14-15 trees every day, which is an alarming rate. I understand that government do undertake plantation drives but saplings require care, and it takes them 20-25 years to grow into trees, then why to uproot the trees which are already there. Also, we read so much about the rise in air pollution every day claiming so many lives, then why not be prudent today? Mumbai cannot afford to lose a single tree, and the line where the shed is being planned has very less number of commuters. The government should save this place and use it as a tourism spot instead of encroaching.”
Why Aarey needs to be saved?
Parks, greenery, gardens, open spaces are the need of the hour, especially in metropolitan cities as they purify the air, manage rains and reduce surrounding temperatures. This is only possible when parks like Aarey are sustained, but these intangible services are not the only reason to save Aarey. In a city so densely populated where 14 million people packed in 603 square km, Aarey is a much-needed breathing space and a real stress buster. It is an opportunity for people in Mumbai to reconnect with nature. Also, many new species like Trapdoor Spider, Scorpions, Tarantula were hiding in the nooks of this complex system, waiting to be found out by the world of science. Many species thought to be extinct have been rediscovered too.
Chronological events in the Save Aarey Movement
Citizens came together to save Aarey after seeing notices posted on trees at the proposed Metro 3 car shed site. The notices stated that the trees are slated to be cut and objections, if any, are to be filed within a fortnight with the Tree Authority.
The concerned citizens filed objections with the Tree Authority. They also moved for a PIL before the Bombay High Court against cutting of 2298 trees. Citizens also met the MMRCL officers and Municipal Commissioner and Tree Authority members to request them to relocate the car shed.
The Tree Authority did not give an NOC to the MMRCL to cut the trees. The High Court disposed of the PIL with orders to the MMRCL to make available to the public the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the plan. Citizens simultaneously launched awareness drives and signature campaigns at Equal Streets, Standard Chartered Marathon and many other public events to Save Aarey. Also, awareness and signature drives were carried out at societies, colleges and stations.
Political party leader organised a protest rally from Goregaon Station to the proposed Metro site in Aarey. Citizens also held a protest rally on 15.2.2015 attended by about 1500 people. Mr Aditya Thakerey and Mr Raj Thakerey visited the site and committed their support.
The citizens organised a Human Chain at Marine Drive in which 2500 people from all walks of life and across all political parties participated. The people met the Chief Minister Mr Devendra Fadnavis and Eknath Khadse, the Dairy Development Minister and implored him to relocate the car shed from Aarey. The CM appointed a Technical Committee to consider and explore various options to relocate the car shed. The Committee consisted of MMRDA Chief Mr UPS Madan, MMRCL head Ms Ashwini Bhide, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte, and two environment experts from IIT Bombay and NEERI – Dr Rakesh Kumar and Dr Shyam Asolekar.
May- June 2015
Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group filed a petition before the National Green Tribunal Pune, praying for it to be declared an Eco Sensitive Zone. The Petition is sub-judice. Citizens also organised an Aarey Mahotsav to showcase the biodiversity. Many plantations and other events also carried out involving college children and residents of nearby areas.
July – August 2015
In the order dated 20.07.2015, National Green Tribunal directed that Status quo be maintained in the entire Aarey colony area, and no construction activity be carried out in the buffer Zone within 100 m from the boundary of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park without the approval of the Tribunal. In the order dated 19.8.2015 the National Green Tribunal further passed an order restraining any construction activity to take place inside Aarey Colony.
September- October 2015
The CM’s Technical Committee appointed for considering relocation of the car shed, ignored the views of the environmental experts who had categorically stated that considering the biodiversity of Aarey and it being catchment area of the Mithi river, the car shed would be detrimental and should be relocated. However, the MMRCL insists on having the car shed.
December 2015- June 2016
Apna Mumbai Abhiyaan organisations joined hands with Vanashakti and the Aarey Conservation Group. Human chain again formed at Juhu Beach by celebrities and citizens.
December 2016- February 2017
Citizens again organised a protest and human chain on 12.12.2016 at Aarey Milk Colony which was attended by 1500 people. The State Government declared in a notification to reserve 33 hectares of land in Aarey for commercial uses like the Metro car shed and allied activities, which were vehemently opposed by citizens. About 4000 objections are filed with the Town Planning Department. PIL was also filed by Colaba residents before Bombay High Court against felling of 5012 trees for the Metro Line 3. The PIL is sub-judice. Meanwhile, consistent efforts to raise awareness and support for Aarey continue on Twitter, Facebook and the Social Media.
The metro yard project, if cleared will be the beginning of the end of Aarey’s biodiversity. For more updates, you can follow their page here.
The Logical Indian requests the authorities to respect the wishes of the people and halt the metro project in such vibrant and diverse forest as it would lead to human encroachment of natural resources, destruction of the forest, extinction of species and even loss of vegetation.