Mumbai’s DP 1991 shows Aarey land near Metro-3 car-shed as forest: NGO
Large tracts of land spread over 17.1 acres or 69,217 sq metre near Saai village at Goregaon’s Aarey Colony were marked as forests, no-development zones, in the development plan 1991, said a city-based NGO.
The land is located south of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). It is very close to the area allocated to the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) for the construction of a car-shed for the Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ) project.
An activist claimed that the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) contrived to mark the area as buffer zone, also called eco-sensitive zone, to allow construction, including that of the Metro-3 project.
The Union environment ministry, in a notification issued on December 5 last year, marked the area within 4km of the SGNP boundary wall as buffer zone, thus unlocking Aarey for development and construction. The notification excluded 165 hectares of land in Aarey from no-development zone.
On Sunday, the NGO filed a complaint with civic officials, forest department and the Union environment ministry, highlighting the locations, bearing survey numbers 12 (155.5 sqm or 2.75 acres), 15 (5,957 sqm or 1.47 acres) and 19 (52,093 sqm or 12.87 acres), in the 1991 DP. All three zones fall under the recently declared SGNP buffer zone. The property cards of all three areas also corroborate that these are all forest lands.
“We are aghast to note the manipulation of land records by the state and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) when it comes to Aarey. If the government wants to push its agenda then it can bend the rules. This is a disturbing trend,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.
“We have every reason to believe that the land being a forest zone was purposely marked as buffer zone to accommodate the metro car-shed, which is a fraud. We demand an inquiry.”
BMC officials confirmed that the these three tracts were marked as forests but it was the state government’s decision to modify the land use. “Even in the latest revised development plan, the area has been marked as a natural area. However, it was the government’s decision and it has the power to modify it. On the same lines, the request for the buffer zone was sent to the environment ministry,” said a senior civic official from BMC’s DP department. “In Mumbai, even 50 years ago, there were many more areas identified as forests, but the government has the liberty to change them.”
Officials from the suburban collector’s office too also confirmed that the state government asked the Centre to notify the land as buffer zone.
During the hearing of a petition seeking Aarey to remain as a no-development zone on March 29 at the National Green Tribunal, the forest department claimed that Aarey had been utilised for non-forest activities since 1949 and sought its permission for Metro-3 work.
Aarey matter at NGT: Timeline
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation plans to construct a car-shed for the Metro 3 project (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) at Aarey across 33 hectares of area. However, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Pune bench has put an interim stay on any construction at the green lung until the final order is passed
June 2016: Seeking a long-term protection of the Aarey landscape, NGOs Vanashakti and Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) filed a petition to treat it as a forest and maintain it as a no-development zone
December 2016: NGT passed an interim order asking the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to stop ongoing construction work and maintain status quo at Aarey Colony, Goregaon, until further orders
December 5, 2016: The Union environment ministry passed the final notification on the buffer zone — an area meant to protect the environment — around the SGNP up to 4km from its boundary and proposed the development and construction work at Aarey
January 9: Environmentalists allege that MMRC had not taken permissions from the state pollution board for Metro-3 constructions
February 19: Challenging all government claims that the Aarey Milk Colony was not a forest land, NGO Vanashakti, in an affidavit submitted to NGT, said that Aarey is a part of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and was owned by the state’s forest division
March 29: The forest department told NGT Pune that Aarey Colony had been used for non-forest activities since 1949 and sought nod for Metro-III constrution
April 20: The state forest department filed an affidavit declaring that only 76 ha of ‘forest-like land’ was identified in 1997 in Mumbai suburban district and the land was in possession of Filmcity and Bombay Natural History Society.
The next hearing will be held on May 22
“We have enough evidence which we will present in the court to prove that Aarey is a forest. This adds to the existing proof. It is only due to the connivance of the vested interests in the forest department that Aarey is being allowed to be plundered. We are filing perjury against officers of the department who deliberately lied to the court and tried to mislead the course of justice.”
Stalin D, project director, NGO Vanashakti