The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) to stop all constructions, including work on the Metro 3 project, at Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon, until further order.
The bench of Justice Jawad Rahim and Ajay Deshpande gave the order, saying that MMRCL had breached an earlier status quo on construction ordered by the tribunal. The next hearing is on January 2.
Environment groups Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) filed a petition, seeking protection of the Aarey landscape and maintaining it as a no-development zone.
On July 20, 2015, the court had directed that no construction activity be carried out in the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), in a radius of 100 metres from the boundary of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), without its approval.
In an order on August 19, 2015, the court restrained construction activity inside Aarey and directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to not issue any clearances for construction within the ESZ in Aarey. The forest department was asked to not allow any tree felling for the project. The petitioners said that MMRCL had not taken any clearances from these agencies before starting work.
The petitioners had sought protection for Aarey in light of MMRCL’s intention to construct 16 stabling lines on 30 hectares of land in the colony for the project.
The latest application by the petitioners said: “It is prayed that MMRCL needs to immediately stop any activity such as dumping of debris, reclamation and levelling of land. MMRCL needs to immediately restore the said side to its original position.”
On December 5, the Centre passed the final notification on the ESZ, but allowed construction work at Aarey. The notification permitted exclusion of 165 hectares from Aarey where construction would be allowed. Environment groups have been seeking protection for one of the last green lungs in the city and want MMRCL to look for alternative plots for the depot.
What MMRCL says
MMRCL officials said they would abide by the court’s directives to maintain status quo till the next hearing. “There was no construction at the car depot site but only temporary construction work was going on at an adjacent plot for our casting yard,” said Ashwini Bhide, managing director, MMRCL. “While we have not seen the order, the area still falls outside SGNP’s ESZ as per the Centre’s recent order and technically falls outside NGT’s jurisdiction. We will make our case on merit on January 2 to the court.”
“Even after there was an order restraining any construction at Aarey, MMRCL did not respect it. We filed a separate application in violation of previous NGT orders, following which, MMRCL accepted that debris was being dumped at the 3 ha area. The court directed it to stop work,” said Stalin Dayanand, project director, Vanashakti. “If MMRCL continues construction work at the site, we will ensure that contempt is filed against them.”
Aarey’s current biodiversity
•77 different avifauna (birdlife) species present
•90 different types of spiders
•6 species of scorpions – Lychas aareyensis is the recent discovery
•86 species of butterflies – Plain tiger, striped tiger, common crow, chocolate pansy, common mormon to name a few
•6 species of venomous snakes – recent discovery of an Indian rock python (Feb 28,2015)
•Caeciliaus, rare amphibian discovered recently at the interiors of Aarey colony
10 rare species of birds found in Aarey –
•Chestnut trail Starlings
•Orange headed ground thrush
Rediscovery and rare/interesting species:
1) Tarantula- Haploclastus validus- rediscovery after 110 years
2) Trapdoor spider- Idiops bombayensis- rediscovery after 110 years
3) Tarantula- Pleasiophrictus millardi- discovery of female after 100 years or so
4) Interesting records/ natural history data on the ground gecko Geckoella cf. collegalensis
(Source: A research journal by Zeeshan Mirza, research associate with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore)