Green activists take up arms again as Maharashtra government decides to move Metro-3 car shed to Aarey settlement

Environmentalists are preparing for another round of battles over the Metro-3 car shed project, which the new government led by Eknath Shinde in Maharashtra has proposed to return to Mumbai’s Aarey Forest, an area of ​​1,800 acres often called a city. green lung’.

Apart from leopards, some 300 different varieties of flora and fauna are found in Aarey Forest, located in the suburb of Goregaon and adjacent to Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

According to environmental activists, the forest not only provides fresh air for the city’s inhabitants, but it is also a key habitat for wildlife, including some endemic species. The forest has around five lakh of trees, as well as a few rivers and a few lakes running through it, they say.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has recently requested the State Solicitor General and Administration to submit a proposal to build the car shed in Aarey settlement, instead of Kanjurmarg , who had been chosen by the former state government headed by Uddhav Thackeray.

In 2014, the Metro-3 car shed was first proposed to Aarey by the then Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan, which was challenged by local NGO Vanshakti in the Bombay High Court, with a plea to prevent the cutting of trees in the region.

Fadnavis, who succeeded Chavan, went ahead with the same site.

But, environmental activists had vehemently opposed the cutting of trees in Aarey for the carport.

After the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance came to power in 2019, then-CM Uddhav Thackeray reversed the decision, moving the Metro-3 car shed to a site in the eastern suburb of Kanjurmarg, but he was embroiled in a legal dispute.

The Thackeray government had also declared Aarey as a reserved forest.

On Thursday evening, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Fadnavis at their first cabinet meeting held hours after taking office reversed the decision of the previous Thackeray-led government.

An official from the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) said nearly 900 days had been lost in litigation and no construction had taken place either at the Kanjurmarg site or at Aarey.

“This clearly means that it would take at least three years to complete the Metro-3 car shed at the Aarey site, if all goes well with the new government,” he said.

There are various metro lines at different stages of construction, but the Metro-3 car shed is crucial, mainly because it connects the western suburbs to Mumbai’s two main industrial hubs – the Bandra Kurla complex and SEEPZ.

D Stalin of the NGO Vanshakti, who is at the forefront of opposition to the Aarey land carport, said: “It’s not just the carport that will arrive at Aarey’s pitch. There is a good chance that real estate players will also make an incursion. This will forever destroy the forest lands of Aarey. There had been a logical explanation for the construction of the car shed for metros 3 and 6 at the Kanjurmarg site, but some ‘invisible powers’ are strongly forcing the new government to move it to Aarey, he claimed.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd, which is overseeing the 33.5 km Metro-3 project, has already spent more than Rs 19,000 crore on tunnels, civil works, station works and laying of tracks. About 23% of construction work was completed at Aarey (before work was suspended there), while no work took place at the Kanjurmarg site, an MMRCL official said.

Most of the funding for the Metro-3 line comes from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Stalin said the importance of the Aarey Forest is not just because it provides fresh air, reduces temperature and pollution, and helps retain groundwater in the city.

“It also provides crucial wildlife habitat and is home to endemic species, flora and fauna found nowhere else. It is also home to two rivers, three lakes and five lakh trees. Why should we bother him? He asked.

He said the Metro-3 car shed in the Aarey area will have direct and indirect effects.

“The direct effect is that trees will be cut, destroying 62 hectares of forest land. Eventually, the floodplains of the Mithi River will be washed away,” he said.

“The car shed is expected to require 50,000 liters of groundwater per day for washing (Metro rakes). The indirect effect will be long term,” he added.

Stalin said that the MMRCL will not only build the car shed there, they are also planning a metro station in Aarey.

“Why should a station go up inside Aarey? A 90-acre SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) project is also planned near the station. The station will destroy the colony of Aarey,” he claimed.

Nearly 1.5 lakh people will stay in SRA buildings. Additionally, several plots were taken away for other activities, such as a zoo, Metro Bhavan, RTO testing center and labor camp. All sorts of activities are offered in Aarey because of the car shed, Stalin said.

The Shiv Sena, led by Uddhav Thackeray, opposed the decision to build the Metro car shed in Aarey, and he also received support from Maharashtra leader Navnirman Sena, Amit Thackeray, son of MNS leader Raj Thackeray.

Amit Thackeray has spoken out in favor of environmental activists, saying the state government should reconsider its plan to build the Metro-3 car shed in the Aarey forest area.

Martin E. Berry