Explained | Aarey forest controversy: How an environmental issue became a political one

Published on Jul 03, 2022 09:14 PM IST

The issue that resurfaced after the Eknath Shinde-led alliance government with the BJP came power in Maharashtra pertains to the new regime's proposal to shift the Metro-3 car shed project back to Mumbai's Aarey forest, an 1,800-acre area, often termed as the megalopolis's 'green lung'.

People stage a protest against the State Government over the construction of a metro rail car shed in Aarey Forest, in Mumbai.(ANI)
People stage a protest against the State Government over the construction of a metro rail car shed in Aarey Forest, in Mumbai.(ANI)
Written by Shivani Kumar | Edited by Sohini Sarkar

Environmental activists and functionaries some political parties, including the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on Sunday staged a protest at the Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon, against the newly formed Maharashtra government's proposal to build a Metro-3 car shed at the site.

The issue that resurfaced after the Eknath Shinde-led alliance government with the BJP came power in Maharashtra pertains to the new regime's proposal to shift the Metro-3 car shed project back to Mumbai's Aarey forest, an 1,800-acre area, often termed as the megalopolis's 'green lung'.

Speaking on the ongoing row, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who has been in favour of the project, said it is a "half sponsored and half genuine" one.

"Work paused after 25 per cent had been completed. Already cost has been escalated by 10,000 crore, more the delay, more will cost escalation. This is the only solution to Mumbai's congestion," he said.

The Aarey forest controversy

Situated in Mumbai, Arey Colony forests are spread over 13,000 hectares and are home to over 20 Adivasi villages. It is also inhabited by various animal species. The controversy began in September 2019, after the Mumbai civic body's treet approved a proposal by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to cut down over 2,700 trees from Aarey colony in order to build a car shed for the Metro.

The project had started while Devendra Fadnavis of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the chief minister of the state. In 2019, Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray succeeded the BJP leader for the top post and scrapped the project amid massive protests and outrage by environmental activists. The government also directed the withdrawal of cases against some of the protesters.

The previous Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government had shifted the proposed car shed site to Kanjurmarg from Aarey Colony on the ground of environment protection.

According to environmental activists, the forest not only provides fresh air to people of the city, but it is also a key habitat for wildlife, including some endemic species. The forest has some five lakh trees, and also has a couple of rivers and some lakes flowing through it, they say.

Meanwhile, the government has pitched the project as a solution to the city's congestion problem and says it is a "necessity for development".

According to reports, the decision to scrap the project by the Shiv Sena government became a mere political statement as the metro authorities had already axed 2,135 trees out of the proposed 2,700 trees.

(With agency inputs)

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