Green Minute News
Braving heavy rains and water logged streets and the ensuing chaos, citizens of Mumbai attended the second public hearing on saving more than 2290 trees of Aarey Milk Colony that is situated in the western suburbs of the megapolis.
Municipal authorities said they had received 82,000 objections from citizens till the day (July 8) before the public hearing. The Bruhanmumbai Municipal Corporation said it had made a note of all the objections raised and would soon prepare a report and share it in a few weeks.
It was an agonizing time for citizen groups and individuals at the public hearing called by authorities for felling of 2298 trees in Aarey forests for the Metro Car Shed project of Mumbai Metro 3. The Car Shed is a place where trains are parked after hours and undergo routine maintenance. The fact that over 2000 trees needs to be felled for this car shed – the citizens felt was an unacceptable and unpardonable decision on the part of the authorities.
The public hearing was called as per provisions of Maharashtra (Urban Area) Protection and Preservation of Tree Act, 1975. The law allows citizens to voice their objections to tree felling. And more than 600 citizens voiced their protest at the Aarey public hearing organized by the BMC.
Mumbaikars, young and old, braved heavy rains on a Monday afternoon to voice their anger and question policies and doled out facts and research findings to BMC officials — including the two new members of the Tree Authority. The venue was packed to capacity and people were perched on the floors and in between aisles. Others were standing outside the venue while the proceedings were beamed on a projector. It was a charged and inspiring atmosphere and for many activist groups, it restored their faith in citizens’ commitment towards their environment.
Amrita Bhattacharjee, Aarey Conservation Group told Green Minute, “People attended the hearing in large numbers. BMC had made no arrangements to do a proper hearing. The Hall had seating arrangement for only 250 people while more than 600 people came for the hearing. The concern for protection of Aarey was so much that many people were standing outside the auditorium. And all strongly opposed the Metro car shed project that will destroy the most important lung space of Mumbai.”
Further from the hearing, it became very clear there has been a steady increase in the number of trees proposed to be cut from 2298 trees (proposed five years ago) to 2702 trees today. Raising their objections, citizens said cutting of trees would lead to depletion in groundwater levels, a threat many cities are already facing. When citizens questioned what Mumbai Metro staff was doing on the panel, they left the proceedings midway.
Asha Tai, a tribal community member from Aarey whose lands and homes were at stake, made an emotional speech about the quashing of their basic rights and said their opinions were never considered.
Aarey forests in Goregaon East – one of the few remaining lung spaces in Mumbai, is a biodiversity hotspot with 77 species of birds, 34 species of wild flowers, 46 types of reptiles, 9 leopards and many more species. And citizens groups have been fighting to save Aarey for the last five years. In response to the ongoing movement and litigation in the courts, the authorities had called for a second public hearing on this issue. Meanwhile, citizens said they were not ready for another hearing and hoped at least now the state government will look for alternatives and save Aarey forests that are an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.