Baba’s Explainer – Aarey Controversy

  • IASbaba
  • July 12, 2022
  • 0
Environment & Ecology
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  • GS-2: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
  • GS-3: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Context: The Aarey Milk Colony is back in the spotlight, as the fight to preserve this green space in the heart of Mumbai continues

  • Following the recent political upheaval in the State, the Aarey issue has resurfaced and so have the protests.
  • Recently, activists and political parties like the Shiv Sena and the AAP staged a protest at the Aarey Colony to oppose the Government’s decision to shift back the metro car project from Kanjurmarg to Aarey.

What is the brief background of Aarey Colony?
  • Mumbai’s need for easily accessible agri-produce: As India gained Independence and Mumbai was emerging as a dream destination for business and for building a life, there was a need for easily accessible agricultural produce. It was this requirement that gave birth to the Aarey Milk Colony.
  • Streamlining Mumbai’s Dairy Sector: In 1949, around 1,300 acres were allotted to the Maharashtra State Department of Dairy Development. The vision was to develop a separate area to streamline Mumbai’s unhygienic and unorganised cattle sheds and give impetus to the production and supply of dairy products.
    • The man behind this idea was the then Bombay milk commissioner Dara N Khurody. He won the Ramon Magsaysay Award along with Verghese Kurien in 1963.
  • Emerged as biodiverse rich area: In 1951, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru formally inaugurated the milk colony by planting a sapling. Over the years, the jungle of concrete around the woody area exploded, with Aarey emerging as a haven for biodiversity, a home for the Adivasis inhabiting its villages and the ‘last green lungs’ of Mumbai — one of the most polluted cities of the world.
What is the Metro project planned at Aarey Milk Colony?
  • The ongoing controversy has its origins in 2014. The then chief minister proposed a plan to build a facility for washing and maintaining Metro coaches at Aarey Milk Colony.
  • A patch of 30 hectares — the land use of which was later changed to ‘development zone’ — was handed over for the Mumbai Metro Line-3 project.
  • The project is being executed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) — a joint venture of the Government of India and the Maharashtra government. Later that year, the new government that came in also proceeded with its predecessor’s plan.
  • The proposed car depot will have an administrative building, operation control, inspection and maintenance workshops and stabling lines for parking of trains, according to the MMRCL.
What is the controversy regarding Metro project at Aarey?
  • Since the project involved felling of trees for car shed construction, the State Government’s proposal got a massive push back from environmentalists and citizens, intensifying the ‘Save Aarey’ movement.
  • Local NGO ‘Vanashakti’ approached the High Court with a plea to prevent the felling of trees in Aarey.
  • In response to protests, the State Government constituted a technical committee in 2015 to look into the environmental impact of the proposed project.
  • The committee recommended relocating the car depot project to Kanjurmarg in Mumbai, with a small stabilising unit at Aarey.
  • A few months later, NGO Vanashakti filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT),claiming that the Mumbai Metro Raily Corporation was engaged in illegal construction in Aarey.
  • Meanwhile, residents of the Aarey Milk Colony also moved the Bombay High Court, alleging that their land had been illegally acquired for the car shed.
  • In August 2019, Mumbai civic body’s Tree Authority (TA) approved a proposal to cut 2,185 trees from Aarey for the construction of the car shed. The proposal included transplanting 461 trees. This led to widespread protests.
  • Soon, a series of pleas were filed before the Bombay HC to challenge the decision of the Tree Authority, but all were dismissed. NGO Vanashakti again approached the HC to declare Aarey Colony a forest, but this plea was also dismissed.
  • Meanwhile, despite protests, the MMRCL began cutting down trees in Aarey on October 4, 2019. The Bombay HC was approached the following day, but the court refused to issue a stay.
  • Overnight felling of trees and no respite from the judiciary triggered anger and dismay among Aarey residents, activists and other protesters. Hundreds of policemen were deployed and Section 144 was invoked. A clash between protesters and police followed.
    • Around 30 people were arrested for “obstructing and assaulting” police personnel during the felling of trees, leading to an uproar.
  • It was a letter from a law student to the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that was instrumental in stopping the felling of trees. On October 7, the SC took cognizance of the letter and ordered the Maharashtra Government not to cut any more trees in Aarey.
  • The State Government agreed to comply and told the court that whatever was required for the Metro car shed had been cut—in a statement, the MMRC stated that 2,141 trees had been cut. With this the project was halted.
  • Around a month later, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition came to power. In his first decision, the Chief Minister announced the scrapping of the construction of the Metro car shed at Aarey. The government announced tha the car shed project would be moved to the 102-acre Kanjurmarg plot.
    • In 2020, the CM declared 800 acres of Aarey Colony as reserved forest.
What is the present status of the car shed project?
  • Metro Project dependent on Aarey: The Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ corridor, with 27 underground stations, will be Mumbai’s first underground Metro once ready. Work on all stations is underway, except Aarey. Work on the Metro-3 car shed, meanwhile, remains embroiled in a legal battle.
  • Dispute over alternate site: The proposed car shed site in Kanjurmarg (new site that is alternative to Aarey) was part of the land, the ownership of which has been claimed by the Maharashtra government, the Centre, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and other government and private entities.
  • Reversal of decision: The situation, however, changed with the change in government recently. The new government in its first Cabinet meeting on July 1, directed the Advocate General of Maharashtra to submit an application before the Bombay HC, stating that the Metro car shed will be moved back to Aarey from Kanjurmarg.
What are the contesting claims on Aarey?

Saving Aarey – Environmental Conservation

  • Over the years, Aarey Milk Colony has become a crucial part of the Mumbai ecosystem. There are about 4.5 lakh trees in Aarey, according to the BMC.
  • The area is known to have 86 butterfly species, 90 spider species, 46 reptile species, 126 bird species and more than 400 different types of plants. The forest is also home to a small population of leopards.
  • The colony hosts over 10,000 people in 27 tribal villages, also called padas.
  • It is also highlighted how the “veritable green lung” acts as a buffer for the Sanjay Gandhi National park, and forms a catchment for the Vihar lake which is a source of drinking water and offers flood and pollution control.
  • But now, the 3,000 acres of forest have been whittled down to 1,300 acres. Projects such as the Film City and the Byculla zoo have cut into Aarey forest and impacted its inhabitants.
  • Environmental activists say Aarey is crucial for Mumbai’s future. They argue that the forest not only provides fresh air to the people of the city at a time when pollution levels are dangerous, but its ecosystem protects the diverse habitat which harbours some endemic species.
  • Also, there is an increasing threat of man-animal conflict if the Aarey cover is reduced.
  • Activists have been calling for peaceful protests, saying that development and urbanisation can’t be at the cost of the environment
  • Former CM Uddhav Thackeray (who made a decision to shift project from Aarey to Kanjurmarg), a professional wildlife photographer, has made a fervent appeal to the successive Government not to build the car shed in the Aarey Milk Colony.
    • “If you are angry with me, then vent out your anger, but don’t stab Mumbai in the heart,” he said. His son and former Maharashtra environment minister Aaditya Thackeray shared similar sentiments on Twitter.
  1. The development pitch
  • The car shed is proposed to be set up on 33 hectares — 2 per cent of the 1,278 hectares of Aarey land. The MMRCL (Mumbai metro rail corporation limited) has said that beyond this 33-hectare plot, no other part of Aarey will be disturbed, as the site is accessible by road from three sides.
  • The MMRCL lists the benefits: The metro corridor will connect important residential, business, educational, health and recreational centres along with major transport hubs including domestic and international airports.
  • The metro corridor will ultimately cater to 17 lakh commuters daily, once fully commissioned.
  • The corridor will not only reduce CO2 emission to the tune of 10,000 metric tonne per year but will also help Mumbaikars cope with the deteriorating travel conditions on public transport and traffic congestion on roads. The MMRCL further says that the car depot is “mandatory and essential.”
    • A car depot serves Metro trains akin to a “home” for any human being,” it notes.
  • The new State Government also maintains that the project is important for Mumbai’s development.
  • “Metro service is the right of a Mumbai citizen,” Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said and added that 25 per cent of the work on the Metro-3 car shed project is already completed.
  • The government has also assured that no more trees will be cut for the project while saying that environmentalists have the right to express their opinion, but they should not ignore the facts.

Mains Practice Question – As forest areas are being diverted for developmental projects, distress caused in environment is unknown. Analyse the statement in the context of recent controversy over Aarey forests in Mumbai.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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