Mumbai: One of the first decisions rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde took after being sworn in as Chief Minister of Maharashtra was to revert to the contentious plan of building a Metro car shed at Mumbai’s eco-sensitive Aarey Milk Colony.
With this, he and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP have overturned the Uddhav Thackeray government’s 2020 decision to scrap the Metro car shed in Aarey and move it to Kanjurmarg — a decision he’d been in favour of as urban development minister at the time.
Moreover, when the Union government blocked the Thackeray administration’s proposal to shift the car depot to Kanjurmarg along the Eastern Express Highway, claiming ownership of the land, it was Eknath Shinde who had accused the BJP of playing politics over the issue.
Shinde had also pushed for the Centre to let go of its claim on the land in Kanjurmarg.
“Eknath Shinde, as urban development minister, was present in all meetings and on board with the entire plan. He never raised any objections to relocating the car shed at that time,” said an official who was part of the Thackeray government’s plan of relocating the Metro car shed.
Political analyst Hemant Desai told ThePrint that the decision “sets the tone for how this government is going to function”.
“It seems like the agenda is being dictated to Eknath Shinde. Devendra Fadnavis has the remote control of this government,” he added.
The location of the car depot for the fully underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro (Aqua Line 3 of Mumbai Metro), one of the city’s costliest infrastructure projects, has been a constant bone of contention between the Shiv Sena and the BJP.
While the Shiv Sena is opposed to having a car depot in Aarey, citing environment concerns, the BJP — especially Fadnavis — has said that a Metro car shed at Aarey would result in completion of the much-delayed project sooner.
Speaking to reporters Friday, former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray objected to the new Shinde-led government’s decision to overturn the relocation. “If you are angry with me, stab me if you want. Don’t take it out on Mumbai,” Thackeray said.
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Shinde’s previous stance
Speaking to reporters in November 2020, Shinde said the Kanjurmarg land “belongs to the Maharashtra government and soil testing is underway”.
“This site was discussed even during the previous government’s (Devendra Fadnavis-led 2014-19 government) tenure. The work at the designated site will not be stopped under any circumstances,” he added.
Shinde was speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony held to mark the signing of an agreement, between the Maharashtra government and Germany’s KfW Development Bank, for financing certain Metro projects.
Addressing the media in December 2020, Shinde hailed the decision to move the Metro car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg as one that will “benefit crores of people”. The location is suitable to accommodate Metro depots for four lines, and not just the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro, he had said.
“An integrated car shed for four Metro lines at Kanjurmarg was proposed. More than a crore people will benefit from it. We have already proved that the land vests with the state. All documents also point to that, but unfortunately, the Centre filed a petition in the court. It ought to have taken a more accommodative stance,” Shinde was quoted as saying.
Eknath Shinde had even accused the BJP of politicising the issue.
But in the first meeting of the state cabinet he chaired as CM Thursday, Shinde took the decision to revert to the Aarey plan.
The Shinde-Fadnavis government also brought back Fadnavis’ flagship Jalyukt Shivar scheme — which aims to increase the soil’s moisture content through small localised projects — that was scrapped by the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
Addressing a press conference at the Mantralaya (secretariat) thereafter, Shinde avoided referring to the Aarey issue directly. “We will speed up the various infrastructure projects underway in Maharashtra… we discussed various issues in the cabinet meeting such as agriculture, Jalyukt Shivar and Metro projects,” he said.
The Aarey-Kanjurmarg tangle
In 2020, the former MVA government in Maharashtra scrapped the Aarey Metro car shed, moving it to Kanjurmarg instead.
A bench of the Bombay High Court, however, issued a stay on construction of the Metro car shed in Kanjurmarg in December 2020 after the BJP-led Centre took the then MVA government in Maharashtra to court, claiming ownership of the proposed site.
Now, in a decision seconded by Shinde, Deputy CM Fadnavis has directed officials from the state’s urban development department to apprise the courts through the advocate general that the Metro car shed can be built at Aarey itself.
Speaking to reporters at the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Mumbai Friday, party chief Uddhav Thackeray urged the Shinde government to scrap any plan of building a Metro depot at Aarey, and accept the Kanjurmarg alternative proposed by the former MVA government.
“I am very hurt with the decision on Aarey. It is not anybody’s personal plot. We are not giving it to any builder. I had stayed that decision. Was I blocking development? No. I suggested the Kanjurmarg plot. I am with the environment,” Thackeray said.
The former chief minister added, “There is no ego in the proposal we have given about Kanjurmarg. Please do not harp on the Aarey plot when there is an alternative. I am only scared that in the future, the periphery around Aarey will also be vulnerable to development, and there will be no end to it.”
Earlier this month, a group of Shiv Sena MLAs, led by Shinde, rebelled against the former MVA government in Maharashtra, causing it to lose its majority in the assembly. As a result, Thackeray had to resign as chief minister and his former confidant Shinde took his place with Fadnavis as the Deputy CM.
The MVA, a three-party coalition, comprises the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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