Mumbai: The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government Sunday decided to move a contentious Metro car depot, proposed at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, to another location, ending years of uncertainty.
Addressing the state through video conferencing, Chief Minister Thackeray said the car depot for the underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro will be moved to a location in Kanjurmarg from Aarey Colony in Goregaon, one of the city’s rare green lungs.
“There are a lot of questions over how this will impact the cost, what about the money already spent on the project. I will answer all of these. The land at Kanjurmarg is owned by the state government and will be provided for the project at zero cost,” Thackeray said.
“About Rs 100 crore have been spent at Aarey in filling the land and constructing a building. We will use the building for a good purpose,” he added.
Thackeray also said the state government has decided to increase the area to be declared as a forest to 800 acres from the earlier-announced 600 acres. “There will be no infringement on the rights of tribals already residing in Aarey Colony while doing so,” he added.
In a two-word tweet hours after the decision, Environment Minister and the CM’s son Aaditya Thackeray, who had championed the ‘Save Aarey’ cause earlier, said: “Aarey Saved”.
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) October 11, 2020
Officials of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), the state government agency implementing the 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor, have in the past said that relocating the car shed from Aarey Colony at this stage will lead to cost escalations of over Rs 2,000 crore as well as project delays.
The Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro will be the city’s first and, so far, only fully underground Metro corridor.
Until now, authorities have completed 80 per cent tunnelling for the project and finished 60 per cent of the overall civil works. The project was originally estimated to cost Rs 23,136 crore, but this has been revised to Rs 32,000 crore due to frequent delays and stalling of work at the Aarey car shed.
Officials were hoping to partially commission the corridor from Aarey Colony to Bandra Kurla Complex by June next year, but the new change in alignment will now likely cause fresh delays.
The Aarey Colony was established in 1949 across 1,287 hectares of land in Goregaon. It comes under the jurisdiction of Maharashtra’s dairy development department.
According to government data, of the total land in Aarey, 430 hectares have been allotted to different state and central government departments and institutes. Besides, the dairy department has 30 stable units in the area and about 27 tribal hamlets are spread over another 1,000 acres.
The Aarey protests
Ever since the car shed project was proposed at Aarey Colony, there has been a wave of protests by environmentalists, politicians as well as general citizens against the MMRC’s plan.
While the plan was first proposed in 2012, the movement to ‘save Aarey’ started gaining ground only in 2015, when the project was already under tendering and finances were in place, prompting officials to express concerns that a change at this stage will bear a massive cost for the project in terms of time and money.
The previous Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government was also in favour of going ahead with the plan to build the car shed at Aarey Colony, even though the Sena was against it.
In the years that followed, activists also approached various courts to put a stop to the MMRC’s plans.
Last year, following the civic body’s tree authority’s approval to hack 2,646 trees at Aarey Colony, the cause once again gained momentum, triggering widespread protests against the plan. Shiv Sena leaders, including Aaditya Thackeray, supported these protests.
In October last year, there was much drama at the site as MMRC officials proceeded to hack trees in the dead of the night immediately after a Bombay High Court ruling in their favour, while activists protested at the site. Many activists were detained by the police.
Last month, the state government decided to withdraw cases against all the green activists who were protesting against the Aarey car depot.