Mass Tree Cutting in Aarey Colony for Proposed Metro Car Shed Stirred Protests in Mumbai
In August this year, a proposal was made to a panel of three experts from the Tree Authority (run under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) for approval. The proposal made by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation was regarding the felling of trees in Aarey colony in order to construct a 33 hectares metro car shed. The approval was granted to the BMC for felling 2,702 trees of which 2,238 were proposed to be cut and the rest were to be transplanted.
When it became public knowledge, the protests began immediately. This is due to the fact that in the concrete jungle (that is Mumbai) Aarey Milk Colony is a treasured green patch. Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon, has more than five lakh trees and is home to a wide variety of birds and animal species, as well as 27 tribal villages.
With the increasing environmental awareness, people have come forward to spread the message of conservation. The decision of cutting trees in the name of progress left the people rattled and hence the protests began.
Amidst the continued protests over the felling of trees in Aarey Colony, Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (MMRC) axed over 2,000 trees for the proposed metro car shed on October 4. The MMRC sprang into action hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions challenging the felling of trees. On Friday, the MMRC managed to cut down 2,134 trees in Aarey Colony within 24 hours.
The protests erupted as the locals and environmentalists came to know of the mass tree cutting in the dead of the night. As the protests continued, activists were arrested on the charges of allegedly obstructing and assaulting. The police imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code at Aarey Colony, which prevents the assembly of more than four people.
Many people were prevented to enter the area and asked for the identification proof. The residents of the Colony faced inconvenience in their daily routine due to this.
On Sunday, the Supreme Court (SC) received a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by a law student seeking a stay on the cutting of tree as public interest litigation. A special bench of the SC heard the case on Monday and asked the state government to stop the tree cutting in the area.
The SC ordered a status quo by halting the tree cutting which was in progress since the late hours of Friday night after Bombay High Court refused to declare the area a forest. Although the state government has convinced the SC that there is no further need to cut anymore trees, the damage has already been done.
The decision of the government in the favor of felling of the trees was a shock for the citizens and they were hoping to remediate the situation by protesting, but the MMRC acted instantly, leaving no time for people to react.
More than hundred people came out to protest and the police arrested 29 of them. Although, the arrested people were released after a day, the 29 protesters gathered at the Mumbai Press Club, where they accused the police of assault and misbehavior. The protesters said that the police failed to distinguish between rioters and peaceful protesters and treated them as if they were hardened criminals.
Aarey forest is considered as the lungs of the metropolitan and the mass tree cutting has left people shaken. Many people have been slamming the authorities for the deforestation.
The incident has created ripples across the nation with many celebrities tweeting their reactions. Here are some tweets that convey the emotions that people of the colony are going through.
A sad day today where so called development wins over quality of life and preservation of environment. The trees are already being chopped down in the dark of the night. This is murder of mother nature and we will all have to pay for it. God help Mumbai https://t.co/BZvnfbwNYW
— Priya Dutt (@PriyaDutt_INC) October 4, 2019
Aaditya Uddhav Thackeray, the President of Yuva Sena, a youth wing of Shiv Sena, also criticized the act of MMRC.
A project that should be executed with pride, the Metro 3, @MumbaiMetro3 has to do it in the cover of the night, with shame, slyness and heavy cop cover.
The project supposed to get Mumbai clean air, is hacking down a forest with a leopard, rusty spotted cat and more
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) October 4, 2019
— Zainab Sikander (@zainabsikander) October 6, 2019
400 trees have been cut in the dead of the night. As citizens sang and joined hands in unity pleading to STOP this massacre. Can’t you see they are UNITED by love!?! Love for nature. Love for our children and our future. #Aarey #ClimateAction #ActNow #ChangeIsComing pic.twitter.com/7XCwSeaqDT
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) October 5, 2019
The Bollywood actor Vir Das slammed the actions of the government with his sarcastic tweet.
Wow. I thought all govt branches had pretty strict daytime hours. Unless they’re cutting tree branches, that happens sneakily at night. #AareyForest
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) October 6, 2019
However, the actual respite offered by this temporary halt appears to be negligible as the real damage is already done. The metro car shed is supposed to promote the health of the city by reducing the need of road transportation, not create to an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Although, the MMRC has promised to compensate the damage by planting three times as many trees elsewhere in the city, as the special bench of SC said on Monday, planting saplings is one thing, and looking after them is another.
Update – 21, October SC Hearing:
The Supreme Court has extended the stay on cutting of more trees in the Aarey case. However, the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that there is no bar on the construction of the car shed for Mumbai Metro.
The court has also asked for a White Paper demanding details on the trees cut in the area, the ones that were transplanted and the trees that actually survived the transplant. Further, the status quo for the Maharashtra government remains until the next hearing on November 15.