Resettlement colony at Aarey will test environment groups
This newspaper has reported that the state government has handed over a 90-acre (36ha) plot in Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon, to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) to build tenements to resettle encroachers who have to be removed from slums inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and Aarey Milk Colony.
There are around 30,000 illegal structures housing more than 100,000 people inside SGNP, and these slums will have to go because the Bombay high court (HC) had, in 2009, directed the state forest department to restore the forest areas occupied by the encroachers.
The resettlement colony, which will be located in the southern boundary of Aarey Milk Colony, had been proposed almost a decade ago, but it is only now that the land has been formally transferred to Mhada — the government agency mandated to build subsidised housing in the city.
The resettlement tenements are among several projects planned in Aarey Milk Cooly — one of the last unbuilt areas in the city outside the SGNP.
The government is hard-presssed to find land to rehabilitate the families evicted from land cleared for public projects. The current stock of tenements is either inadequate or located in areas not suitable for habitation.
In 2017, around 5,000 families, who were removed from slums along the Tansa water pipeline following a Bombay high court order that said encroachments posed safety and hygiene threats to the city’s water supply, were given tenements in a resettlement colony at Mahul. Recent studies on the tenements by many agencies, including the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), have stated that the Mahul buildings, which are poorly ventilated and located close to oil refineries, are unfit for habitation.
Not-for-profit groups have said that there are enough vacant tenements in the city to resettle families evacuated from public projects, and yet the government has plans to use Aarey for this purpose.
The resettlement colony at Aarey will be a test for environment groups that had carried out some of the most sustained public protests in the city. The protestors said they were not against the project but were opposing the cutting of more than 2,000 trees in the plot. The protests by citizens groups received the support of politicians who now occupy important posts in the new government. The protests and the court cases in the matter has delayed the project and it seems unlikely that the railway line, which is expected to carry more than a million commuters a day along areas that are nor served by the suburban railway system, will be complete before its deadline.
The protests were focused on the 33-hectare plot for the depot, which covers 3% of Aarey. The size of the plot proposed for the resettlement colony is nearly as big as the land given for the maintenance depot for the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ underground Metro line. And the resettlement project will also require cutting down of thousands of trees.
Environmental activists have said that the resettlement colony will open doors for more real estate development in Aarey. However, as reported by this newspaper, there already are plans for a building that will be the headquarters of the city’s new Metro network, a zoological park, and offices for the Maharashtra motor vehicles department in Aarey. These projects will take up around 100 hectare (out of Aarey’s total area of 1,287 hectare).
A study by the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA), Mumbai, said that only 800 hectares of Aarey, all of which was once classified as ‘No Development Zone’, will remain unbuilt. The study further said that new projects in the northern part of Aarey will cut it off from SGNP, depriving wild animals of a dispersal area.
Groups that agitated against the metro depot are hoping that the Thackerays, who had supported the anti-Metro depot agitation, will cancel the plans for the resettlement colony.