‘Encroachers are moving into Aarey during lockdown’Updated: May 01, 2020, 18:30 IST
Trees are being cut inside Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon, during the lockdown period, an environment group told the Supreme Court (SC).
On Thursday, city-based NGO Vanshakti, which had approached the court earlier for the protection of the 1,280 hectares Aarey, filed an interim application alleging illegal tree cutting, slum encroachments and fires in the area and peripheral eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). However, no responsive action was taken by state authorities. HT has a copy of the application filed against the Centre and various bodies of the Maharashtra government including the forest department and Aarey administration.
“Despite the SC imposing a stay on tree cutting, illegal felling went on through the lockdown period. Repeated pleas to state bodies yielded no results. Faced with prolonged inaction we were forced to inform the court about brazen violations of previous orders,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.
The application listed that close to 40 trees were illegally felled at unit 13 in Aarey on April 19. Two incidents of forest fires (on April 17 and 20) were reported from unit 8, close to State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) Camp, which falls within the Aarey ESZ.
The amphitheatre situated close to New Zealand Hostel witnessed an increase in illegal slum settlements in areas surrounding both Aarey and Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
“Anti-social elements are taking advantage of the lockdown situation. Any further continuation of such unchecked activity will cause irreparable damage to the ecology of Aarey,” read the application.
While the Maharashtra forest department said they had no jurisdiction as the area was not a forest - it is mostly under the dairy development department - the Aarey administration confirmed that they had acted on some of the complaints.
“We have written to the local police station to file a first-information-report (FIR) against unidentified persons responsible for tree felling at some units. The process is underway,” said Nathu Rathod, chief executive officer, Aarey. “Forest fires were reported from areas that do not fall under our purview. There are no cases of illegal encroachments but local residents had dumped debris on an arterial road between unit 13 and 16. We have cleared the debris and instructed our security staff to keep vigilance in the area,” Rathod said.
Meanwhile, the afterword was out about the SC application, a group of 30 people barged into the house of a local teacher on Friday, who is a resident and one of the complainants, said Stalin. “A mob entered the premises of a citizen activist. The police did not provide any protection nor did they reach the person’s house despite repeated requests,” he said.
The Aarey police said a non-cognisable offence was filed and they were investigating the case. Rathod said the quarrel had nothing to do with issues related to Aarey.
Home to large biodiversity of flora and fauna, environmentalists have been campaigning for overall protection of Aarey for the past six years.