Maharashtra: Fadnavis gets back at Aarey with a vengenace

If the Aarey project goes through, one of the last green spaces in Mumbai will disappear, causing irreparable environmental damage

Maharashtra: Fadnavis gets back at Aarey with a vengenace

NHS Team/ Mumbai

Amid the farce of the government formation in Maharashtra where former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ended up as deputy 10 minutes after publicly vowing the BJP would support the Eknath Shinde government from outside, the new cabinet’s first decision was to revoke the protection offered to the Aarey Forest as a no-development zone by the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government it displaced.

The 2014-19 Fadnavis government’s very last act in office was to cut down trees in the Aarey forest to make way for a Metro car shed. The cutting down of trees happened surreptitiously in the dark of the night to prevent environmental activists from getting wind of the destruction or giving them time to bring about a court stay on the project.

The incoming MVA government had examined all the arguments of environmentalists and the previous government and come to the conclusion that Fadnavis had been withholding information from the public and lying about the facts. They then proceeded to pass a resolution protecting the Aarey forest in north Mumbai as a reserved forest and preventing any development activities from taking place here.

In fact, environmental activist Zoru Bathena is quite categorical about Fadnavis lying to the people about both Aarey and Kanjurmarg in the east where the MVA government shifted the car sheds.

Fadnavis, while chief minister, refused to give a hearing to the green activists and always dodged the issue. No one knows why he was fixated on Aarey but, according to Bathena, when the MVA shifted the project to Kanjurmarg, the central government declared it as a salt pan land under the Coastal Regulatory Zone and insisted there should be no development on salt panlands.

It is quite another issue that union minister Nitin Gadkari has been attempting to build houses and commercial enterprises on genuine salt pan lands elsewhere in the metropolis which is being fiercely resisted by environmentalists.

“Fadnavis and other BJP leaders were lying outright. Kanjurmarg is not a CRZ and Fadnavis was also lying about the figures. He was saying the shift would cause a loss of Rs.10,000 crore but a car shed could not go beyond Rs.100-300 crore.

“He shut up after the court ordered a stay on certain lines (reaching Aarey car shed proposed site) but now the first action in government is this. Fadnavis constantly lies to the people and media about this project,” Bathena asserts.

Debi Goenka, another environmentalist, wonders at Fadnavis’ obsession with the Metro project. He points to the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal’s statement that by 2020 South Mumbai in its entirety would be under water because of the excavation undertaken in Marine Lines.

Much of south Mumbai sits on land reclaimed from the sea and disturbing the equilibrium underground could prove dangerous for the city, he warns.

“Rather than the metro, improving the quality and frequency of suburban rail services would have been a better option,” Goenka says, charging Fadnavis with making this car shed a prestige issue rather than a decision based on facts and public consultations with geological and ecological factors taken into consideration.

But now, if the Aarey project goes through, one of the last green spaces in Mumbai will disappear and if the warning of South Mumbai going underwater proves correct -- the MVA government had halted that line and sought new locations for the project – the future generation could be facing tremendous danger in the city.

But by then its originator would be long gone and it would be impossible to hold him responsible.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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