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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Metro-3 vs save Aarey: Mumbai police book citizens protesting construction of car shed

The police charged a case of unlawful assembly against the protesters

mumbai Updated: Oct 15, 2017 01:04 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Volunteers protest against the construction of the Metro 3 car shed at Aarey Milk Colony
Volunteers protest against the construction of the Metro 3 car shed at Aarey Milk Colony(HT Photo)

Citizens who gathered at Aarey Milk Colony on Saturday morning to protest against the construction of the Metro 3 car shed , were restricted to a garden, and not allowed to go near the construction site. The police also filed a criminal case against the protestors, charging them with a case of unlawful assembly.

The police had issued notices to citizens’ groups Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) on Friday to stop them from going to the site of the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro car shed. According to one estimate, there were around 250 policemen to manage over 150 protestors. The groups said that the turnout of protestors was lower because of the restrictions.

The protestors said that Aarey’s biodiversity is under threat from construction on the 30-hectare plot. They carried placards and hugged trees as a mark of protest, replicating the organised resistance against destruction of forests in 1970.

“The turnout at the protest was less owing to the pressure exerted by the police, who displayed extreme hostility towards peace-loving citizens who care for the environment,” said Stalin D, director, Vanshakti, who led the protest. “The state has consistently spoken about protecting trees, but has always done the opposite. Despite having viable alternatives, nothing was done to save the city’s green lungs.”

He alleged that Aarey was chosen as the site for the car shed because it offered the possibility of using the land for other commercial purpose.

Other groups said they were not against the Metro project. “The slow process by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), from choosing a small patch of land to 30 ha today clearly shows that development will crawl into this green lung, and our attempt is to contain it,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.

Zoru Bathena, a Khar resident, who was at the protest, said, “We urge more Mumbaiites to come forward and save the Aarey eco-system. This might be our last attempt and we might not have the luxury of a forest in our backyard anymore.”

The protestors said construction work was being carried out without necessary permissions. They said that the Mumbai suburban district collector’s office had assured them that will survey the area on Monday to find whether there were violations. “After two-year-long efforts, it is a welcome step from the collector’s office, Mumbai suburban, to show their concern. Saturday’s protest was just to highlight that Aarey is dear to us, and we will fight peacefully to protect it,” said Biju Augustine, Aarey resident.

However, the collectors’ office told HT that all permissions for metro work in Aarey were in place. “There was a letter from the attorney general (AG) that states there is no status quo at Aarey for construction by National Green Tribunal (NGT). We have issued permissions for excavation and MMRCL does not need permission for levelling,” said Nitin Mahajan, additional collector, Mumbai suburban.

Some permissions are yet to come. A senior official from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board said that MMRCL had not approached them for the mandatory ‘consent to operate’ so far, even after repeated reminders. Officials from the building proposal department of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said the MMRCL had sent communications about the construction work at Aarey earlier this month. The BMC has also not cleared the cutting down of 3,130 trees at the construction site, said a senior civic official.

Police said the protestors had not informed them about their plans to gather at Aarey. “We have not arrested anyone so far. We will seek legal advice and will take appropriate action,” said Vinay Rathod, deputy commissioner of police, zone 12.

First Published: Oct 15, 2017 01:04 IST

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