Construction of storage and repair depot for Mumbai Metro can go on, but at what cost?

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the construction of a storage and repair depot to continue following the destruction of the Aarey forest area

Aarey forest in Mumbai
Aarey forest in Mumbai

Ranjona Banerji

The destruction of the Aarey forests in Mumbai caught a small bit of the public imagination in India. People who protested were arrested. I can see your eyes glazing over. One more rant on the environment and blah blah blah. My commiserations. Because when we take another turn for the worse, every bit of corrective action we don’t take now will cost us in the future.

Lots of us do follow the current trends, guilt-tripped by videos on social media. Which is fine. We don’t need plastic straws or most single use plastic thingies, we don’t need plastic face scrubbers, we can work towards reducing our carbon footprints, we can buy a bamboo toothbrush and feel good about ourselves.

We can support Extinction Rebellion via social media even when London commuters are angry with them for disrupting transport systems. Maybe we cannot go as far as Greta Thunberg and take a sailboat across the Atlantic.

Definitely most of us will not. Maybe the protestors at Aarey did not expect the action against them to be so extreme or stringent. And maybe because of that some may get frightened and a few may get even more determined.

Sadly, all this is not going to make a lot of difference when the ice sheets are melting at a very fast pace and ocean temperatures are rising. The city of Mumbai will gain from the Metro Railway itself but not from the devastation of the ecosystem at Aarey, nor from the lies and dissimulation that there was no ecosystem, all for a storage and repair depot for the Metro Railway.

This is not a “development versus fruitcakes” argument. This was arrant and arrogant disregard for all evidence that we need to conserve forests, our dwindling greenery and wildlife. More than the planet, we the living need to conserve.

The Earth will keep spinning, whether it’s a desert or green, populated or not. Planting a few tiddly saplings now is about as useful as remembering not to use a plastic straw every six months. Planting tiddly saplings as a sop to your conscience and then ignoring it so it dies from negligence is just criminal.

Can citizens match up with government chicanery? For every video of prime ministers doing some fake sweeping of carefully placed garbage, you have another law in India diluted to destroy some part of our diminishing greenery. The latest travesty will be if the proposal that weddings, exhibitions, parties, video and photo shoots in reserved forests may no longer require Central clearance. A local divisional forest officer will be power enough.

You do not need a huge imagination to figure out what will happen if this proposal becomes reality. This is not tourism paying for the upkeep of our reserved forests. This is an invitation to further destruction, of trees, plants, wildlife, birds, insects, everything.

The Uttarakhand mountain area of Auli is still recovering from the damage, destruction and garbage left behind by a massive wedding allowed for the South African Gupta family earlier this year. On the cards is an idea to declassify Auli’s bugyals as “alpine meadows”, so that more such destructive events can be held, more tourism comes in and more money is made.

Living in the hill town of Dehradun introduces one every day to the “development” versus “nature” argument. Tourism is a money-spinner and people visit for the natural beauty. But this presents a dilemma. Local populations demand better infrastructure and facilities. So do tourists. So does the environment. How do they all dovetail?

In simple terms, the more you destroy the environment, fewer tourists will visit. Replacement is not easy and no government wants tough answers although they do not seem to mind tough arm tactics.

If there is an answer, it is in intelligent governance and in larger citizen’s participation.

I know. First you fell asleep and now you’re laughing.

But when extreme weather events become more frequent, as summers get hotter and winters colder, as water vanishes and desertification increases, as fossil fuels run out and everything connected with it vanishes or gets too expensive, as oceans rise and coastlines change, as forests decrease and greenhouse gases increase…

You get the drift. Either we wake up or we die.

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