Fadnavis Govt planned commercial activities in Aarey forest in Mumbai

Documents reveal commercial activities have been planned for both Aarey forests and Kanjurmarg salt pan lands

Fadnavis Govt planned commercial activities in Aarey forest in Mumbai

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

Even as the ‘Save Aarey ‘protest has spread to various cities across the country and is slowly gaining nationwide support, protestors at Aarey are facing ‘illegal detention’ by the Mumbai Police.

Last week, environment groups across the country held protests in solidarity with Mumbai’s Save Aarey campaigners, after the Shinde-Fadnavis government announced the return of the controversial Metro-3 car shed back to its proposed location in Aarey. Demonstrations of varying sizes were held in Mumbai, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Jammu, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Gurgaon, Adilabad, Agra, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Greater Noida, Allahabad and Patna.

The environment activists allege that machines were being used to remove trees at the plot, and added that this was in violation of the Supreme Court order of 2019 that had directed status quo be maintained at Aarey. The activists claim that when they approach the Mumbai Police with written complaints about ongoing excavation in the forest at the proposed car shed area with JCB machines, they don’t accept the complaint letters and even reject latest photos and videos of the same.

The environmentalists fighting to save Aarey forest claim that the Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis during his earlier regime had already discussed and planned commercial activities near the proposed depot for the Metro lines despite the availability of an alternative site at Kanjurmarg which had been planned as integrated depot. Documents accessed by activists and shared with National Herald indicate that the previous Fadnavis government planned to commercially exploit both the metro car shed depots at Aarey and the integrated depot in Kanjurmarg.

The environmentalists claimed that under the garb of development in the name of a Metro, Fadnavis has planned for ancillary activities with real estate developers.

Mumbai’s Aarey forest is an 1,800-acre area, often termed as Mumbai city’s green lung’. The fact that the recent culling activity brought forth the emergence of a leopard from the depths of the forest shows how damaging such commercial activities could be to the delicately balanced eco-system of Mumbai.

Environmental activist Zoru Bhathena said, “We have the minutes of the war room meeting during Fadnavis’s tenure which clearly asks the Urban Development Department (UDD) to process the change of land use for the proposed depot and related activities. Related activities were to be clarified as Commercial Activities subsequently.” (Copy of the RTI available).

The resistance by the Fadnavis government then and now to the Kanjurmarg depot also raises questions. In June 2019 in the Government Resolution (GR) (copy available) it had stated that the proposal submitted by a big private builder for developing the Arthur & Jenkins Salt Land at Village Bhandup-Kanjurmarg (East) and participate in central government’s objective of ‘Housing For All-2022’ by constructing one lakh affordable houses in Mumbai should be examined. Subsequently, the Fadnavis government constituted a study committee under the chairmanship of Addl. Chief Secretary (Finance) to examine the proposal.

“This is a first of its kind GR by any government which orders land to be given to a builder. Is this the reason he (Fadnavis) doesn’t want to start a depot in Kanjurmarg?” asked Bhathena.

Adds Debi Goenka, Executive Trustee of Conservation Action Trust, “It’s strange that the Maharashtra government decided to commercially exploit central government-owned land (Kanjurmarg) that was classified as CRZ-I, which means between low tide line and high tide line, where no housing is permissible.”

Meanwhile Aarey Conservation Group activist Amrita Bhattacharjee, has independently filed a plea before the SC, and now activists are hopeful that all the ‘Save Aarey’ petitions will be clubbed for a common hearing.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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