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Save Aarey: Tribals of city’s green-lungs see red over projects

The Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai’s Goregaon area, has tribal settlements with a population of over 10,000.

mumbai Updated: Feb 25, 2018 23:49 IST
Yesha Kotak
Yesha Kotak
Hindustan Times
Aarey,Metro,Mumbai Metro
Families claim that their lands are being taken without their consent.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

Tribals from Maroshipada, Khambacha pada, Devipada and Picnicpada pass through a broken wall built for a ‘government project’ to reach their farms they have been cultivating for generations in Aarey Milk Colony.

They have been told that the wall is being built for some ‘government work’; however, environmental activists have said that it is for a zoo and botanical park. Tribals are dismayed as various agencies are carrying out infrastructure projects and acquiring their land without consent.

There are 27 padas or tribal settlements in Mumbai’s green lungs with a population of 10,000. Most of them existed before Aarey Milk Colony was created. Each pada has between 80 and 150 families.

While the Warlis of Ketlipada have been fighting for the last eight years to ensure that they aren’t relocated to make way for the Force One (an anti-terrorism squad) training camp project, the Kokana tribe from Prajapur pada recently objected to a Metro car shed.

“Till three weeks ago, some people were building a wall here. They left after we protested. I was told that they would take away my farm,” said Kishan Dhinde, who lives on the periphery of Maroshipada.

Dhinde revealed that there certain farms were surveyed in Maroshipada. He was informed that some people will come back next month to expedite land acquisition procedure.

Lakhma Page, pada pradhan of Khambacha pada, said they keep hearing in the media that they will have to vacate their places. There were discussions too about various projects that would come up around his hamlet when they met local MLA Ravindra Waikar. “We have never been given a written assurance by the government. They built a wall around our farms, but we weren’t informed,” said Page.

Waikar and a team of 250 officials — including those from the Force One National Security Guards, forest department , Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation — on Saturday met residents of Ketlipada, Damupada and Chafyachapada with a rehabilitation offer, saying that the tribals will not be displaced outside the colony. He was unavailable for comment.

“In 1956, we were given formal approval to till land and we have been paying for it. Now, we are being treated like slum-dwellers and asked to move out. It is not just about out house, but what about our land and trees?” asked Prakash Bhoir, a resident of Ketlipada.

When NV Rathod, chief executive officer, Aarey Milk Colony, was asked about rehabilitation process of the four padas, he said that around 180 acres of land around Royal Palm was given to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) for the botanical garden.

“If these tribal hamlets are situated on the land which is part of the proposed project, they will have to rehabilitate. However, SGNP authorities have to decide on it,” said Rathod.

When HT spoke to SGNP authorities, they said they were unaware of the project.

“Tribals are the indigenous people of Mumbai. Tribals have been staying here for more than 100 years. They should not be evicted from their homes and lands against their wish. Tribals earn their livelihood through cultivation. A flat in a building cannot be a substitute for their land and home,” said Amrita Bhattacharjee, member of Aarey Conservation Group.

According to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, tribals living in forest area are entitled to use the forest produce for their livelihood.

“Justice Oak had in 2016 stated tribals cannot be called slum dwellers and one cannot get SRA projects in Aarey,” said Bhattacharjee.

However, around 50 families from Prajapur pada whose houses were acquired for the Metro card shed have been relocated to SRA accommodations in Chakala. Another 20 families are expected to get SRA accommodation by the end of this month.

While Prajapur pada — some call it Sariput Nagar — is considered a slum colony in Goregaon, these tribal families assert that they are indigenous people.

“MUTP (Mumbai Urban Transport Project) clearly states that there should be special resettlement plan for tribals, but MMRCL (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited) has relocated tribals in SRA accommodations despite repeated follow-up meetings with them,” said Sanjay Padavi, Aarey resident from Prajapur pada, who was displace because of the car shed project around six months ago.

Tribal residents and NGOs had earlier held a silent protest march — ‘Aarey Chhodo Andolan’ (leave Aarey protest) —  in August 2017, opposing reservation of land for the car shed and other construction.

According to the Development Plan-2034, 33 hectares of land in Aarey has been allotted for the car shed, which is part of the underground 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor. The line will intersect the existing Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar line.

First Published: Feb 25, 2018 23:49 IST