The world has been focused on the fires in the Amazon rainforest, and the damage that this deforestation is doing to our environment. However, closer to home, another green area, the Aarey Colony in Mumbai is in danger of losing nearly 2,500 trees to make space for a metro shed.
Activists have been trying to raise awareness about this issue for a while, and again last Sunday, nearly 1,000 people – environmental activists, concerned citizens, and Bollywood celebrities formed a 1 km long human chain to protest this decision taken by the BMC.
Why is Aarey important to Mumbai? A part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Aarey Colony is about 1200 hectares of natural forests. It has rich biodiversity and is home to many species of flora and fauna as well as indigenous tribal people.
One can say that Aarey is like a natural air purifier for Mumbai – it helps in absorbing the CO2 released and making the air quality in this polluted city slightly better.
However, it is not a declared ‘forest area’ and that allows the State Government to take the land for development as needed.
So why do they want to cut so many trees? As a part of the Mumbai Metrorail Project, a car shed needs to be built in Aarey. Trees need to be cut to make space for the same.
The Government feels that the metro they are building will help to reduce the number of cars on the road and will prove to be beneficial for the environment and for the people of Mumbai. They have also said that they plan to plant the same number of trees that they cut elsewhere.
The problem with this is that trees take a lot of time to grow to full size and there is no guarantee that all the saplings will survive. In addition, these forests are home to many species of birds, insects, and animals. This will mean a significant loss of habitat for them as well.
Activists have said that they are not against the building of the metro shed, just that it should be located in another area where the environmental damage is kept to a minimum.
Is this something new that is happening? Activists and citizens have been campaigning to save the Aarey Colony since 2014! Check out their site: Save Aarey Campaign
This year in August, when the BMC decided to start cutting trees at the location, they received nearly 82,000 protest mails. So they decided to form a Tree Authority committee that would include politicians as well as botanical experts to arrive at a more informed decision. The panel that voted on 29 August, 2019 agreed to the felling of the trees – leaving environmental supporters shocked! However, a day later two of the tree experts on the panel have said that their vote was misunderstood and they do not support the cutting of trees!
What happens next? The situation is a bit complicated now as the fight between development and saving the environment will continue. We hope that they can work together and form a proposal that will save the little green there is left in this city, while allowing measures to create more public transport that the city desperately needs.
Written by: Preetika Soni. Preetika is a full – time toddler mommy. In the time that is left, she enjoys writing, photography and crochet. She has worked with NDTV, Mumbai and has taught at SCMSophia.