Slum rehabilitation authority rolls back project in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony
After declaring its intent to notify 32,310 square feet (sq ft) of land inside Aarey Colony for a slum rehabilitation project last month, the slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) on Thursday issued a public notice rescinding its decision to go ahead with the project, in line with previous orders of the Bombay high court (HC), which in 2016 had debarred all slum rehabilitation schemes inside Aarey.
Though the land parcel in question, which comes under a 66-acre plot inside Aarey Colony, is outside the 812 hectares (ha) that have now been declared a reserve forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and handed over to the forest department for safekeeping last week, the SRA project would have been located inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) eco-sensitive zone — that is the buffer area around SGNP where development projects are aimed to be restricted.
“Not only that, there are multiple directives from HC going back to 2003, which clearly state that SRA schemes need to be kept out of Aarey. So the very act of notifying or intending to notify this land was in contravention of the HC’s clear directives. The fear was that such a project would be snuck in before the remaining area of Aarey is given forest status, which is still remaining,” said Stalin D, director of NGO (non-governmental organisations) Vanashakti, which filed three petitions relating to the Aarey dispute in the Supreme Court.
When asked about the authority’s decision to rescind its notification, Satish Lokhande, CEO (chief executive officer) of SRA, said, “When we issued our intent to go ahead and notify the area in Aarey, we were not aware of HC’s past orders. It was brought to our attention only later, after objections were raised by citizens to our public notice in May. As there is a clear directive from HC, we have decided to de-notify our earlier notice.”
In response to a 2003 public interest litigation (PIL) by NGO Citispace, all SRA schemes inside Aarey were disallowed. Subsequently in 2014, as a part of the same petition, HC said that any project proponent seeking to implement an SRA scheme would have to record Citispace’s objections in the matter, and also seek the permission of the court. In an unrelated PIL in 2016, HC had barred SRA schemes in Aarey altogether.