In a new twist to the controversy over earmarking a 5,000 square metre plot in the Aarey Milk colony for a Muslim cemetery and a residential zone, the state government has issued a corrigendum wherein the land will not be converted to a residential zone.
This corrigendum (TPB 4306/1021/CR-169/ 06/ UD-11), which was issued by the state urban development department (UDD) on Friday, has put the ruling BJP- Shiv Sena which had opposed the directive on the grounds that it sought to convert the prime land into a residential zone under the pretext of a cemetery, into a bind.
Activists and corporators had opposed the move calling it a clandestine move to open up one of the city's last surviving green lungs for development.
They had pointed out that the state was unclear on why it wanted to convert the land located on the Mohan Gokhale road in Goregaon in a No-Development Zone (NDZ).
Moreover, the Development Control (DC) rules permit a crematorium or a cemetery in a NDZ provided that no services of any kind were provided by the BMC and hence there was no need to convert the land into a residential zone for the cemetery.
The state had also approved the setting up of a Hindu cemetery on the Aarey land without converting the plot into a residential zone.
After a controversy, the proposal was later 'recorded' (rejected) by the BMC improvements committee and has been forwarded to the BMC general body on these grounds.
Said Congress corporator Amin Patel, who followed up the issue with the state government: "While the Sena-BJP rejected the proposal on the grounds that there was a chance that the land could be opened up for clandestine development under the pretext of the cemetery, the real intention was to target the minority community. However, the cemetery proposal has now been changed and opposing it will expose these intentions of the ruling alliance."
He pointed out that a similar proposal for a Hindu crematorium on the Aarey land had been supported by Sena corporators.
However, leaders of the ruling alliance said they would first study the new proposal before deciding on it. Said Parag Alawani, BJP corporator and group leader in the BMC: "We had misgivings about the conversion of the land into the residential zone. But we need to study the proposal before deciding on it. However, the Congress seems to have taken an initiative in pushing for the passage of the proposal just because it involves the interests of the minority community."
Added Improvements Committee chairperson Sharad Shah-Petiwalla: "The Hindu crematorium which has been sanctioned by the state government can also accommodate the proposed Muslim cemetery without taking over any more of the Aarey land."
When questioned, leader of the house Sunil Prabhu (Sena) was evasive about the issue. "We will take a decision when the new proposal is kept before us. However, the state's intentions are suspected from the beginning. If it had no intention to open up the Aarey land for development, then why did it include the residential zone proposal in the original directive?"
However, activist Vitthal Lad of the Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, an organisation of the tribals in the Aarey Milk colony said they would continue to oppose any move to free up land from the NDZ for religious purposes. "The eventual aim is to ensure that private builders gobble up this prime land, and we adivasis (tribal) will continue to oppose it tooth and nail," he added.
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