As an entire city struggles to take a breath of fresh air, Maharashtra’s urban development department sanctions the conversion of 33 hectares of tree cover in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony to create a metro shed.
Spread over 3,160 acres (1278.8 ha) of land, Aarey Milk Colony is a veritable Garden of Eden in Mumbai’s Goregaon East, a suburb along the Western Express Highway and a locality I know well. The colony consists of gardens, forested land, lakes, nurseries for plants, and animal husbandry facilities for milk cows. Additionally, this forested land connects to Mumbai’s pride and joy, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, home to nearly 50 leopards and a variety of other wildlife. Aarey creates a buffer zone that is key in maintaining peaceful coexistence between leopards and humans.
However, with the advance of the Mumbai metro, the BJP-led state government has sanctioned the destruction of 30 acres of forest in Aarey to build a metro car shed. When the project was initially proposed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, only 250 trees were to be cut to create a byway for the metro. However, with this newly-inflated proposal, 3,184 trees will be chopped in Aarey. Adding to the outrage, the Metro Corporation is filling in 30 hectares of land on the banks of the already-polluted Mithi River with debris to make room for the metro car shed. By filling up this floodplain, this act puts Mumbai at further risk from flooding than it already faces. The Mithi River has been known to flood and in doing so, has contaminated public drinking water sources with its putrid water. Aarey acts as a flood catchment area, holding the floodwaters from the river and preventing downstream flooding in the city. Given this knowledge, is this really the best course of action the BMC could come up with? Even if these cut trees will be replanted in other locations around the city, the success rate of such re-plantings has been tested and is known to be very low. Additionally, the oxygen produced by a large patch of trees is far greater than oxygen production by a few lone trees separated by a cloud of pollutants. And if the BMC did not know this earlier, why was the advice of our city’s environmentalists not heeded?
In a recreatment of the famous Chipko Movement (http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/forestry/chipko.htm), Mumbaikars turned out in masses to protest the destruction of one of the final patches of intact forest in our rapidly-developing megacity. Hundreds of protesters encircled the trees in Aarey, hugging them and climbing up into their shady boughs to re-confirm their compassion for the trees that provide us with the oxygen necessary for our continued survival. But the state is firm: Aarey will part with its trees and development, as is sadly often the case, will win a sour victory once again.
It seems necessary to end this post with a quote: “Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.”
So spread the word. See what you can do to get involved. Mumbai is the city of dreams – OUR dreams – and if we dream of a better future, we must act to create it.
Let us save Aarey.