Aarey case: The damage is done. But Maharashtra must introspect | HT editorial
It is time for the state to listen to experts, who have warned that Mumbai will face flooding, loss of open space and wildlife if the depot is built in the forest.Updated: Oct 07, 2019, 20:52 IST
The Supreme Court has directed the Maharashtra government to stop cutting more trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony till October 21, and file a report on the status of saplings it has planted in the area. It has also ordered the release of those arrested during the protests against the felling of trees by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation for building a car shed. While the SC order is a welcome, the damage has already been done, with the state government saying it has already cut the trees it needed to cut to clear the area.
The 1,300-hectare forest land in the city’s northern suburb, Goregaon, is considered the lung of the city. It is home to a variety of flora and fauna; is the catchment for the city’s two rivers; and helps tackle pollution, floods, and brings down temperatures. Almost 35 years ago, one of India’s greatest ornithologists, Salim Ali, wrote to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that Sanjay Gandhi National Park, including the Aarey Colony, must not be touched because they are the city’s best ecosystems. What once used to be over 3,000 acres of forest land, however, has already been reduced to around 1,300 acres.
Even though the trees have been cut, the protest to save the Colony is an important marker in India’s environmental history. First, the activism shows that urban India is becoming interested in environmental issues.
Second, while people are becoming aware, the government seems negligent of the importance of ecological resilience. It neither paid heed to a recommendation that the car depot could be relocated in north-central Mumbai, nor took into account suggestions for seven alternative sites. Many argue that India needs development, and giving excessive importance to the environment will stall that process. While this is true, there has to be a balance between the two, and proper evaluation must be based on data. The good news is that ecosystem services can now be measured. It is time for the state to listen to experts, who have warned that Mumbai will face flooding, loss of open space and wildlife if the depot is built in the forest.