Mumbai: Green tribunal extends stay on Metro construction at Aarey for another month
The order by the western bench of the NGT on Friday may further derail Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) project.mumbai Updated: Feb 18, 2017 00:48 IST
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) stayed till March 15 all construction activities of the SEEPZ-Colaba Metro-3 line at Aarey Milk Colony.
The order by the western bench of the NGT on Friday may further derail Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) project.
The forest department is expected to produce documents to show whether the area was a forest in the past.
On December 19, the Pune bench of NGT passed an interim order implementing a stay on all construction activities, including the car-shed on the 30-hectare plot, at Aarey. The tribunal was hearing a petition filed in 2015 by environment groups Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group (ACG), seeking protection for Aarey as no-development zone. On January 5, the NGT allowed MMRCL to construct a casting yard on a 3-hectare state land for the Metro-3 project, subject to mandatory clearances.
Vanashakti submitted an affidavit at the tribunal on Friday identifying 2,000 hectares of area under forests in the suburbs, including Aarey. “We have produced the documents to show forest areas in Mumbai. However, the forest department claims that these areas are mangroves, but could not show documents to corroborate,” said Stalin Dayanand, director, Vanashakti.
Since the forest department failed to produce the documents the tribunal had asked for, the stay was extended. A tribunal bench of Justice Jawad Rahim and Dr Ajay Deshpande directed the forest department to provide a detailed map of Aarey Colony, Goregaon, and whether some of its green cover had been identified as forests under detailed maps from 1997.
Officials from the forest department said they were unaware of the affidavit until the tribunal asked them to procure the documents. “In 1997, the Supreme Court directed all state governments to prepare maps to identify forest cover in cities. While district collectors and revenue officials were in-charge of this, the maps were given to the forest department,” said a senior official from the forest department. “We are procuring the maps and will present the same to the tribunal by the next hearing.”
Meanwhile, MMRCL officials said the petitioners were stalling the proceedings by submitting new affidavits during every hearing. “The petitioners did not send the affidavit to respondents such as MMRCL, Union environment ministry and forest department before submitting it to the tribunal. In such a situation, the respondents cannot come up with a reply immediately and the tribunal will be forced to extend the date for hearing,” said R Ramana, executive director (planning), MMRCL. “Vanashakti is basically trying to drag the case by introducing new dimensions at every hearing.”
Why you should care
On December 5, the Union Environment Ministry passed the final notification on the buffer zone — an area meant to protect the environment — around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) up to 4km from its boundary and proposed the development and construction work at Aarey, which falls under the permitted eco-sensitive zone.
The notification identified the exclusion of 165 hectares from Aarey aimed at allowing construction activities at the green lung, including that for the Metro III project. However, the notification was published with a rider that it can only cleared subject to Supreme Court, High Court and NGT orders.
‘Promise to save Aarey or we won’t vote for you’
Three days ahead of the election, activists for the Save Aarey campaign have asked political parties to come clear on their stand to save the city’s last remaining green lung. The activists have said they will refuse to vote for the party that does not commit to their cause and will also run a campaign on social media to dissuade citizens from voting for the party. The activists have begun a Vote to Save Mumbai and Vote to Save Aarey campaign on social media .
Raghu Ram, an actor who has supported the campaign, said, “We are fighting for the future. If the authorities axe more than 2,000 trees in Aarey, it is not going to come back. We want parties to make their stand clear and we are telling them if you do not support Save Aarey then we will campaign against you. It is not a threat, but a request.” Any construction activity on Aarey Colony in Goregaon has been opposed by residents and activists. The 3,160-acre area acts as a buffer for SGNP .
The state government has already proposed to construct a car depot for Metro-3 corridor , a labour camp for construction workers and a centralised operation control centre for all metro corridors at Aarey Colony. Preeti Menon, an Aam Aadmi Party leader said, “Though CM Devendra Fadnavis had given his word that there will be no construction in Aarey, he took a U-turn. We will meet party leaders, ask what their stand is and put up their answers on social media .”