Hours after he was sworn in as the new chief minister of Maharashtra on Thursday, Eknath Shinde overturned Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to shift the Metro-3 car shed out of the Aarey Colony in Mumbai, reported The Indian Express.

In the first Cabinet meeting of the new government, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis directed officials of the urban development department to table a proposal to build a car shed in Aarey.

One of the first decisions taken by Thackeray, after being sworn in as the chief minister in 2019, was to stop work on the Aarey car shed. The previous Fadnavis-led BJP government had faced flak for the construction of the shed in Aarey from concerned citizens, who wanted to protect one of Mumbai’s last green lungs from concretisation.

On October 11, 2020, Thackeray had announced that 800 acres of land in the Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai would be declared a reserve forest and that the car shed for the metro project in the area would be relocated to Kanjurmarg.

Fadnavis had described the decision “unfortunate” and one taken to satisfy the Shiv Sena’s ego. In December 2020, the Bombay High Court ordered a status quo on the project.

On Thursday, Fadnavis said that the 33-kilometres long underground metro project was stuck because of legal complications over the Kanjurmarg plot, reported The Indian Express.

Fadnavis asked the bureaucrats if the state’s advocate general could be assigned to inform the courts that the car shed can be built in Aarey itself. Shinde seconded this.

Fadnavis also ordered to restart the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan – the state’s flagship water conservation project initiated under his regime as the chief minister, reported the Hindustan Times. Thackeray had put a stay on the water project as well, alleging irregularities in the scheme.

Environmentalists have opposed the decision to shift the Metro-3 car shed to Aarey.

“We will oppose the matter in the court,” said D Stalin, a member of non-governmental organisation Vanashakti. “They can’t build the car shed and the Supreme Court has stayed felling of trees.”

The Save Aarey Movement’s Sanjiv Valsan urged that the forest area be spared from the project.

“There is a detailed plan for integrated metro shed at Kanjurmarg, which will do away the need for a separate car shed at Aarey and Thane,” Valsan said. “This land at Kanjurmarg belongs to the government. The MMRC must spare Aarey as it is a forest area, flood plain of Mithi river and habitat of wildlife, including leopards.”

Save Aarey protests

In October 2019, 38 people were booked for carrying out protests against the authorities’ move to cut trees in Aarey. The Bombay High Court had dismissed a series of petitions to stop the work and give it the status of a forest.

While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited – the agency implementing the metro project – claimed it would compensate by planting thrice as many saplings elsewhere, protestors demanded that the car shed be shifted to an alternative site. Till October 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the car shed.

After assuming the chief minister’s office in November 2019, Thackeray announced that his government will withdraw cases registered against the activists who tried to stop the felling of trees in Aarey Colony.