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Bombay HC allows Aarey felling: Was the urban tree activism based on hype and fear?

The Bombay High Court Friday refused to declare Mumbai's Aarey colony a forest and allowed the felling of more than 2,600 trees to make way for a Metro car shed in the city.

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The Bombay High Court Friday refused to declare Mumbai’s Aarey colony a forest and allowed the felling of more than 2,600 trees to make way for a Metro car shed in the city. The move comes as a major blow to activists and citizens protesting the construction for weeks.

ThePrint asks: Bombay HC allows Aarey felling: Was the urban tree activism based on hype and fear?  

BJP government in Maharashtra will plant crores of trees to compensate for loss in green cover

Alka Kerkar
BJP corporator and member of Tree Authority

The Bombay High Court must have definitely considered all facts before dismissing all petitions in its final decision. The truth of the matter is that the metro project is for the betterment of the commuters. It is important to understand that it is an infrastructure-based development project, and certain projects do require these kinds of court decisions.

Many people have appealed against this decision, but they are probably not aware of the situation at hand and what is required. I would tell these people not to worry because the situation is completely under control. I say this because all the trees that will be cut down will be replaced. For every tree that is cut, six new trees will be planted. The BJP government in Maharashtra will be planting crores of trees to compensate for the loss in green cover.

What also needs to be acknowledged is that carbon emissions will considerably reduce because fewer cars will be on the roads. Moreover, it will be a huge plus for public transport as well.

Also read: People behind #SaveAarey & how they’ve become a ‘big nuisance’ for Mumbai’s metro dreams

Shiv Sena is not against Metro project, but we believe in sustainable development

Priyanka Chaturvedi
Deputy Leader, Shiv Sena

The Shiv Sena and Aaditya Thackeray have taken a very principled stand on felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey forest. We believe that there are only two cities in the world — Los Angeles and Mumbai — which have forests in them, with the former being home to pumas and the latter sheltering leopards. In fact, at a press conference, Aaditya Thackeray had even shown pictures of wildlife species inhabiting the Aarey forest.

So, the Bombay High Court’s decision to dismiss the petitions is unfortunate. It is completely wrong to say that Aarey is not a forest. The Shiv Sena is not against the Metro project, and we do believe that it is needed in a city like Mumbai, which depends heavily on public transport. Other options should be explored to create space for a car shed. We need sustainable development.

The Shiv Sena was the only party in Maharashtra that was strongly against the felling of trees in the Aarey forest. The Congress chose to walk out while other political parties supported clearing up the space for the metro car shed.

Top IIT scientists have warned that any fiddling with the forest will create huge problems for the city, especially during the monsoon. Mumbai anyway faces a lot of difficulties during monsoon and felling of trees will only add to the problem.

Also read: Why Mumbai says Aarey Colony protests aren’t only about felling trees for Metro car depot

Bombay HC took a sensible decision. Those objecting to the project have no solutions to offer

G.R. Madan
Former MMRDA officer and infrastructure expert 

It is very clear that for the Metro project to work in Mumbai, there needs to be a dedicated place for the parking shed. The problem is that there is very little open space available in downtown Mumbai.

I think the decision of the Bombay High Court to give a go-ahead to the metro project is a very sensible one. As an engineer, I believe that this project is required, which makes acquisition of land a necessity.

Another problem is that those with objections have no solutions to offer. Are they even aware of what all goes into the preparation of reports like the one prepared in the Aarey forest case? Such naysayers think that the state government is deliberately going after trees. Objecting for the sake of objecting does not make any sense. Decisions like felling nearly 2,700 trees are not made on a whim. A lot of time and hard work goes into thinking something like this through.

Moreover, it is also important to acknowledge that the metro facilitates in the reduction of carbon dioxide emission, and addresses the problem of traffic. The option of planting more trees and transplanting the green cover lost is always there.

BJP govt’s claims that no other plot is available for metro shed apart from Aarey in Mumbai is a big lie

Environmental activist Zoru Bathena

Zoru Bhathena
PIL petitioner against Aarey felling

I am fairly disappointed that the Bombay High Court rejected the four pleas pertaining to felling of trees in the Aarey forest case, even though two of them were rejected because they are pending before the Supreme Court.

Claims that no other plot is available for the metro car shed are lies. If the BJP government in Maharashtra was serious about finding an alternative, it could have easily thought of one. But it is evident that this government is not willing to budge. The Aarey matter has been going on since 2014, and we are essentially fighting against the government’s pet project. But now that we are completely involved here, there is no going back.

One needs to acknowledge that the entire fight is not only about preserving trees, but also about balancing the entire ecosystem — whether it is flora, fauna or the monsoon cycle.

The state government’s rationale that the metro will lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is a lie. While there is absolutely no doubt about the benefits the metro project will have for Mumbaikars, it will not reduce traffic.

The cost of running the metro will be huge because of the amount of money that will go into electricity generation, as it will be operational throughout the day.

Damage and encroachments were going on for long; Aarey activists should have been concerned earlier

Sulakshana Mahajan
Former urban planning consultant, Mumbai Transformation Support Unit

I am not surprised by the Bombay High Court’s verdict. On the contrary, I was worried that if the metro project got shelved, then it would be more harmful. On the question of whether urban tree activism was based on hype and fear, I think it was a bit of both.

The metro rail construction work started long ago and changing anything right now, like finding another location for the parking shed, would not be a viable option and only escalate the cost.

The question is of economy vs ecology, which seems to have governed the thinking of the state government as well. One should also realise that Aarey will be able to replenish its lost greenery. Activism is fine in its place, but I feel in Aarey’s case, it has come too late. Damage and encroachments have been going on for a long time, and people should have been more concerned earlier.

I wish activists had a larger view of the trade-off between ecology and economy, and kept in mind the bigger picture. Sometimes activism goes too far, and sometimes authorities too fail to acknowledge the environmental damage. I think the anger of the activists is not only over the loss of trees, but also because they feel their voices have been suppressed.

Aarey is home to thousands of Adivasis. Condescending to call efforts to save forest as ‘urban activism’

Samira Sood
Associate editor, ThePrint

If we aren’t going to hype the very real impact of deforestation now, when will we? And if we don’t fear the dire consequences of deforestation now, when will we? That apart, dismissing the #SaveAarey protests as activism borne of ill-informed urban hype is unwise, insensitive and frankly, counterproductive.

One, Aarey is home to almost 30 Adivasi villages, identified by the state authorities. The villagers have been protesting against the loss of their home and way of life. So, the activism can’t be condescendingly reduced to ‘urban’ in any case.

Two, on the issue of alternative spaces for the metro shed, such as Cuffe Parade, the Maharashtra government recently admitted that it did not even look into the matter. Moreover, there was obfuscation of several facts, as activists told ThePrint last week.

Finally, the promise of planting 13,000 or more trees is not enough. Where is the transparency in terms of which trees will be planted — native species or fast-growing foreign ones — that will establish a healthy ecosystem? Who will water and maintain them? It is a hollow attempt at showing environmental concern because any tree will take at least 25 years to start providing shade and oxygen.

So this reforestation will not be enough to combat that much more environmental degradation.

By Revathi Krishnan, journalist at ThePrint

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  1. Finding suitable plots of land for essential infrastructure projects is a huge challenge in Bombay. The state government would not have taken the decision to site a Metro shed at this location light heartedly. However, I am happy concerned citizens fought tenaciously on this issue. They should not lose heart. Each acre of Bombay’s vanishing open spaces and green cover should be fought over. 2. This compensatory planting concept works better on paper than on the ground. Experience suggests one fully grown tree is worth a hundred – not two or even six – planted in its memory.

    • I want to see these enviormetalists when new Zopadpatti spring in Mumbai, every zuggi requires electricity, water, seavage transport, medical facilities. Dharavi is situated on natural rain water drainage What about that, you walk any where in Mumbai you will find illegal encroachment stretching B M C resources to limit.

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