BJP candidates around Mumbai’s Aarey Colony say tree felling not a poll issue for voters

BJP candidates around Mumbai’s Aarey Colony say tree felling not a poll issue for voters

Sitting BJP MLAs and candidates say, on the campaign trail, voters have barely mentioned the cutting of trees for a Metro car shed at Aarey Colony.

A protest to save Aarey prior to the Bombay High Courts order that allowed for the felling of trees

A protest to save Aarey prior to the Bombay High Courts order that allowed for the felling of trees | Aarey Conservation Group Facebook page

Mumbai: Mumbai has been gripped by a wave of protests against the BJP-led state government’s plan to cut over 2,000 trees at Aarey Colony to make way for a Metro car shed, but the party’s candidates for the 21 October assembly polls are confident it is a non-issue for voters and won’t impact their electoral chances.

BJP candidates from Mumbai’s western suburbs, where the Aarey Milk Colony — one of the city’s green lungs — is located, say voters have other more emergent issues on their minds, such as traffic congestion, parking, inflation and corruption. The Aarey Metro car shed issue, they claim, largely does not feature in the discourse.

‘Voters understand Metro will outweigh 2,600 trees’

Yogesh Sagar, sitting MLA and the BJP’s candidate from Mumbai’s Charkop constituency, said: “There has been no impact of this issue on Mumbai’s voters. For example, I have been to two big housing societies this morning for campaigning. I have met close to 300 people. Not even a single person asked me about Aarey.”

Meanwhile, Parag Alavani, the sitting BJP MLA and the party’s candidate from Vile Parle, said the trees at Aarey were an important issue for the people, but not the sole issue — there are more pressing things that voters are talking about.

“They talk about development, an honest government. They look at the good work done by the existing government and understand the situation about Aarey. From what I see, there is no environment against the current government right now,” Alavani said.

“I have addressed 15 rallies so far, and only one or two people have questioned me on Aarey. People understand that the judiciary has decided on it, the issue went to the high court, then the Supreme Court, which has asked the government to maintain status quo and it is doing just that,” he added.

Also read: ‘Posturing & double standard’ — why Shiv Sena is drawing flak for leading Aarey stir

Ameet Satam, the BJP candidate from Andheri West, said hawking, encroachment and parking are the most important issues on people’s minds.

“My sense is that people are convinced that if there is a development project, some trees will have to be cut. Even a housing society redevelopment needs some trees to be axed,” said Satam.

“I don’t want a single tree to be cut either but like me, voters also understand that the reduction in carbon emissions that a green transport like the Metro will bring outweighs 2,600 trees,” added Satam, also the sitting MLA in his constituency.

Similarly, Manisha Chaudhary, Dahisar MLA and BJP’s candidate, said: “Here, people care more about the fact that they have to spend 3.5 hours traveling to reach the other end of the city. We have a lot of greenery in Dahisar with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and mangroves. Aarey is not really an issue everywhere as it is made it out to be.”

Minister of State Vidya Thakur, the BJP’s candidate from Goregaon where Aarey Colony is located, reamined unavailable for comment despite several attempts to reach her.

The issue

The BJP has been strongly in favour of having the Metro car shed at Aarey Colony, with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis having spoken in defence of the project on a number of public platforms.

A car depot for the 33.5 km fully underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor on a 30 hectare plot in Aarey will require axing of 2,646 trees. Of the 30 hectares, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) has decided to preserve the green belt on five hectares.

The state government and the MMRCL, the implementing agency for the project, say the location is ideal and the number of trees affected is just 2 per cent of the total tree cover in Aarey, while protesters say the project will not only harm trees, but the entire biodiversity that Aarey has to offer, while reducing one of the few green spaces in Mumbai.

The issue flared up last week after the Bombay High Court allowed the MMRCL to cut the trees, after which felling started in the dead of the night amid furious protests. The Mumbai Police arrested 29 protestors, leading to even more unrest. The MMRCL cut 2,141 trees over two days.

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