Former Maharashtra governor had recommended protection of Aarey in 2004: RTI

The late Mohammad Fazal had written to the state government asking for Aarey Milk Colony to be included in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP)

mumbai Updated: Apr 17, 2018 00:09 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra,Aarey,Sanjay Gandhi national Park
The letter further legitimises their claim to give Aarey a forest status, the environmentalists have said.(HT FILE)

Environmentalists will be submitting to the Bombay High Court (HC) and to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a copy of a 14-year-old letter from the then Maharashtra governor, Mohammad Fazal, addressed to the state government, asking for Aarey Milk Colony to be included in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). The letter was accessed through an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Dated June 8, 2004, with the subject line, ‘Creation of a new biological park in Goregaon,’ the letter from governor Fazal to the then chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde highlighted the importance of Aarey Colony. It read that on June 4, Fazal had visited Aarey Milk Colony and SGNP, considering its tourism potential to set up a new biological park with world class facilities.

“Aarey Milk Colony consists of 3,162 acres of land out of which 955 acres have already been allotted to 27 institutions. Many of these institutions, I am given to understand, are not using the land for the purposes of which they have been given. The government may, therefore, consider resuming these lands,” read the letter, adding that illegal encroachments pose a threat to the green lung, and unless more protection is provided encroachments will only increase.

The letter further legitimises their claim to give Aarey a forest status, the environmentalists have said.

Over the past three years, environmentalists have been at loggerheads with the state government and the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRC), regarding the construction of the Metro car shed at Aarey. The environmentalists are not opposing the Metro rail project; however, they do not want the no-development zone tag to be removed from Aarey and nor do they want it to be opened for construction. The MMRC insists that the car shed has to be located at Aarey, and for the last three months has been carrying out construction at the site.

The letter further suggested that the entire relevance of Aarey Milk Colony, since its inception in 1949, needs to be examined with regard to its milk production as it did not contribute any milk to the Government Milk Scheme back then.

“Another issue that needs to be addressed is the increasing number panther (leopard) attacks on nearby populated areas. One way to prevent this is to give them a larger area where they can live undisturbed. For this, Aarey Milk Colony could be merged with the Borivli National Park (today SGNP). The proposal needs to be examined seriously,” read the letter.

Aarey, one of the last remaining green lungs in the city, has been a bone of contention ever since a proposal to build a car-shed for the Metro 3 line (Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ) over 30 hectare of Aarey. In June 2015, NGO Vanashakti and another NGO Aarey Conservation Group filed a petition with the NGT, seeking long-term protection of Aarey and asking that it be considered a forest.

The document, in possession of HT, and acquired by NGO Vanashakti through RTI will be submitted by the NGO at the Bombay HC during the next hearing on Tuesday and at NGT during subsequent hearings scheduled in May.

The petitioners claim that the document was ignored by the state, which allowed the green lung to be opened up for development.

“It is a sad reflection of the reality of the situation in the state. Even the orders of the governor have been ignored and this only helps the developers lobby which continues to call the shots. Because of this non-compliance, today citizens are fighting various battles to save the forests of Mumbai,” said Stalin D, petitioner in the matter and director, NGO Vanashakti.

AUTHORITIES SPEAK

A senior official from the state environment department who wished to remain anonymous said, “All alignments and plans for Metro 3, with Aarey Colony area allocated for the car shed, are ready and construction is underway. There is no point raising these issues now as there is no going back. The car shed area is a meagre fraction of the green lung, and the state is committed to ensure the biodiversity is not affected.”

Aarey Milk Colony’s biodiversity

• 77 different avifauna (birdlife) species

• 90 different types of spiders, five species of Tarantula

• Six species of scorpions

• 86 species of butterflies — plain tiger, striped tiger, common crow, chocolate pansy, common mormon to name a few

• Six species of venomous snakes

• Caeciliaus, a rare amphibian discovered at the interiors of Aarey colony

10 rarest species of birds found in Aarey

• Hoopoe

• Indian roller

• Indian Blackbird

• Indian Grey Hornbill

• Chestnut-tailed Starling

• Rosy Starlings

• Glossy Ibis

• Loten’s Sunbird

• Spotted Owlets

• Orange- headed Thrush

Mammals at Aarey

The green lung boasts of leopard, spotted deer, rusty-spotted cat, jungle cat, palm civet, small Indian civet and Indian mongoose.

Rediscovery of rare species

• Jumping spider (Piranthus decorus): Rediscovered after 122 years

• Tarantula (Haploclastus validus): Rediscovered after 110 years

• Trapdoor spider (Idiops bombayensis): Rediscovered after 110 years

• Tarantula (Pleasiophrictus millardi): Rediscovery of female after almost 100 years

(Source: Rajesh Sanap, Zeeshan Mirza and John Caleb, research associate with National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore)

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 00:09 IST