Metro-3 row: 1,501 hectares of Aarey Milk Colony is part of Borivli national park in Mumbai, say experts | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Metro-3 row: 1,501 hectares of Aarey Milk Colony is part of Borivli national park in Mumbai, say experts

Vanashakti, which has filed petitions with the NGT seeking protection for Aarey, said that a July 22, 1980 document, accessed under Right to Information (RTI) Act , revealed that 2,076 (ha) of land from Aarey Milk Scheme (as known back then) was transferred to the forest department by the revenue department.

mumbai Updated: Feb 20, 2017 09:11 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Mumbai, India - April 2, 2015: A stretch of Karanj trees ( Pongamia pinnata ), Summer Spring trees in Aarey Milk Colony, at Goregaon, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Photo by Vidya Subramanian/ Hindustan Times)
Mumbai, India - April 2, 2015: A stretch of Karanj trees ( Pongamia pinnata ), Summer Spring trees in Aarey Milk Colony, at Goregaon, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Photo by Vidya Subramanian/ Hindustan Times)(Hindustan Times)

More than 2,000 hectares (ha) of Aarey Milk Colony land was transferred to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) when it expanded in 1969, environmentalists told the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Vanashakti, which has filed petitions with the NGT seeking protection for Aarey, said that a July 22, 1980 document, accessed under Right to Information (RTI) Act , revealed that 2,076 hectare of land from Aarey Milk Scheme (as known back then) was transferred to the forest department by the revenue department.

The document was submitted in the form of an affidavit at NGT’s western bench on Friday during the hearing of a petition filed in 2015 by Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group (ACG). The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited has plans to construct a carshed for its SEEPZ-Colaba Metro 3 project in 33 ha in Aarey. Construction work has been stopped until the case is disposed of.

“Pursuant to an RTI application asking for historical details of Aarey Colony, records revealed that on July 22, 1980, an official communication was sent from the office of the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (FDCM), Nagpur to the Regional Manager, FDCM, Thane that 2076.073 hectares of revenue land was transferred from Aarey Milk Scheme to be included in Borivali National Park,” read the affidavit that attached annexure of the document undersigned by LP Palimkar, then divisional manager, Borivli National Park. HT is in possession of all documents submitted to the tribunal.

The affidavit further read, “Out of 2076.073 ha, 575 ha of land shall be extracted for a recreational zone and the rest of the land (1501.073 ha) will continue to remain a major part of the Borivli National Park. Subsequently, another communication dated October 10, 1980, was sent to FDCM Thane to declare the area as either as reserved or protected forests to allow the department to have stricter legal control under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.”

The petitioners said that, in view of revelation of documents that say that Aarey has been transferred to the forest department, the applicants prayed that the records indicate Aarey as ‘forest or has ‘forest-like characteristics’. “The entire area needs (1501.073 ha) to be protected and the forest department needs to provide all such data, records pertaining to Aarey at the time of notifying Borivli National Park,” prayed the applicants.

On Friday, members from the forest department under Thane territorial range told the tribunal that the old records of the 2076 ha area was not traceable. The NGT bench of Justice UD Salvi and Ranjan Chatterjee directed the forest department to produce all relevant documents regarding the matter at the next hearing scheduled on March 15.

Environmentalists said that the matter needs to be investigated thoroughly. “It is shocking that the forest department concealed this fact from the courts for the last two years. The findings points towards a massive scam that needs to be investigated at the highest level,” said Biju Augustein, Aarey resident and an ACG member. “We are surprised that the dairy development board had jurisdiction over this land that actually belonged to the forest department all along.”

Authorities speak

Thane forest department officials said they had already reached out to the Mumbai suburban collector, SGNP officials and the revenue department to assess all old papers regarding the issue. “SGNP was declared a national park in 1996 and 86 square kilometre was then declared as its boundary. After more forests from the Thane division were added, the total area of the park became 103.84 sq km. So we need to find out the exact boundary of the remaining 17 sq km,” said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forest, Thane. “Old documents are being examined and retired officers have been contacted. Within a week’s time we will have answers to whether the area in question is a forest or whether it is a national park.”

The origins of Sanjay Gandhi National Park

1870: The British government constructed two lakes – Tulsi and Vihar – located in Borivali and Powai respectively to supply portable drinking water to the city of Mumbai.

1942: The Bombay Municipal Corporation (as known back then) acquired catchment areas of these two lakes and also added the land from the government dairy of Aarey to protect it.

1950: The Krishnagiri National Park, covering an area of 20 sq km was established under the Bombay National Park Act.

1954: The dairy development board began their operations near Krishnagiri National Park but outside the 20 sq km area

1969: 2076 hectares (ha) of land of Aarey Milk Scheme (as known back then) was transferred to the forest department but not notified as reserved or protected forests

1976: An area of 68.27 sq. km was declared formally as the Borivali National Park

July 22, 1980: An official communication was sent from the office of the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (FDCM), Nagpur to the Regional Manager, FDCM, Thane that 2076.073 hectares of revenue land was transferred from Aarey Milk Scheme to be included in Borivali National Park. Out of 2076.073 ha, 575 ha of land shall be extracted for a recreational zone and the rest of the land (1501.073 ha) will continue to remain a major part of the Borivali National Park.

October 10, 1980: Another communication was sent from Nagpur to FDCM Thane to declare the area as either as reserved or protected forests to allow the department to have stricter legal control. However, no documents show that the area was officially notified by the forest department.

1981: Borivli National Park was further expanded to include an area of 82.25 sq km.

1996: Borivali National Park was renamed as Sanjay Gandhi National Park. More forests from the Thane division were added to the original boundary to make 103.84 sq km of SGNP known today.

(Source: Affidavit submitted at the National Green Tribunal, western bench by applicants NGO Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group that procured information through RTI)