The verdant Aarey Colony was dotted with close to 150 cyclists early on Saturday morning. Converging at the spot from Andheri, Vikhroli to as far as Thane, they formed a chain protesting against the felling of 2,298 trees for the proposed Metro 3 car shed.
This was a joint effort by Save Aarey group and cycling clubs of Mumbai and saw the participation of residents, celebrities and environmental activists. “There is a 45-km range within Aarey that is untouched. We have gathered here to save this place from being commercialised,” said Manish Sethi, organiser of the cycle rally.
The group’s fight to protect the 3,100-acre area, coupled with protests from political parties, has drawn scores of people over the past month. The motive is to make the green lung a ‘buffer zone just like Sanjay Gandhi National Park’ and ‘immediate suspension of any activity towards damaging of trees’.
Biju Augustine, a member of the group, said, “As per the rule book of the Tree Authority, 80% of the trees found here cannot be transplanted. Earlier, 560 trees were transplanted to JVLR but majority of them did not survive.”
A grievance letter marked to 10 officials, including the chief minister, additional municipal commissioner, chief executive officer of Aarey Milk Colony and various officials of MMRDA and Tree Authority, was distributed. It lists the demands made by the group with regards to the protection status of the area, cleanliness and road-related issues and conducting a study on its bio-diversity.
“Development should not be at the cost of the environment. If open spaces are claimed, where will initiatives such as World Yoga Day take place? Where will our children play?” said poet, actor Piyush Mishra.
The Save Aarey group is also conducting awareness workshops at several schools. “We are conducting tree walks, environmental quizzes and providing general information to students at the middle-school level. They should know that a tree fetches Rs 4-5 lakhs when sold,” said Lovleen Mishra, Save Aarey group.
Ashwini Bhide, MD, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) said work on the site has been halted till the committee setup by the chief minister looks into the matter.
About protecting the trees, she said, “We have submitted a proposal to the tree authority. If it is an issue of trees, we will plant almost four times the number of trees felled with the tree authority’s consent. We are looking at transplanting 2,400 trees and our intent is to plant another 2,000 to 3,000 trees in the area.”
App launched to save trees
IT professional Kshitij Ashtekar, who is a nature enthusiast, created a mobile application, Rain Tree, which serves the dual process of calculating the latitude and longitude and geo mapping of trees in the across Mumbai, including Aarey. The app captures the latitude and longitude of the location of trees through GPS.
“We have uploaded the app on Playstore. People can upload the data on Google Maps and share it with anyone. After they are mapped, I provide information on the trees. There is a specific pattern to analyse the data and send it to the authorities for future reference,” he said.
Artist Kisalay Vora and part of Save Aarey group, is best known for his public artworks. His artwork depicting several tree barks laid on the ground with a white sheet smeared with covering them was displayed at the site.
“This is how I bring pain on a subliminal level - through a human expression of death and murder. The image is to rest in people’s minds as there is tremendous ignorance of the pain nature suffers,” said Vora.
(All pictures by Nikhil Sachdeva)