Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday night announced that his government will withdraw cases registered against activists who tried to stop the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony for a metro car shed project, reported NDTV.
In October, 38 people were booked in connection with the protests against the authorities’ move to cut trees, even as the Bombay High Court dismissed a series of petitions to stop the work and give it the status of a forest. Of the protestors, 29 were arrested but later granted conditional bail.
“I have directed police officials to withdraw the cases registered against green activists who were protesting against chopping of trees in the Aarey forest area,” Thackeray told reporters on Sunday. “There will be no more cases against anyone now.”
Thackeray’s move comes two days after he had passed an order to stop work in the construction of the metro car shed project. However, the chief minister on Sunday reiterated that he was not stopping any metro project.
During the protest in October, Shiv Sena MLA and Thackeray’s son Aaditya Thackeray had strongly advocated against the cutting of trees. He had even vowed to “deal with murderers of Aarey forest” if voted back to power.
The metro car shed project has been marred by controversy. There have been several protests against the civic body’s decision to cut the trees on 30 hectares of Aarey land to build the metro car depot. 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.
On October 4, the Bombay High Court dismissed four petitions filed by NGOs and activists challenging the decision to allow the cutting of 2,646 trees. Along with several activists, Shiv Sena leaders, including corporator Sheetal Mhatre and party leader Priyanka Chaturvedi, had visited the site of the protests against the tree felling.
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Thackeray also said that he has ordered a review of all on-going development projects in the state, including the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. The Rs 1.08 lakh crore project has faced opposition from farmers and tribals whose lands are to be acquired. Around 150 km of the railway line is to be built in Maharashtra. Land acquisition for the project is currently under way.
“This government is of the common man,” said the chief minister. “Like you asked now, yes, we will review the bullet train [project]. Have I stayed the bullet train project like Aarey car shed? No, I haven’t.”
Thackeray said the state government, which has a debt of nearly Rs five lakh crore, will give unconditional loan waivers to farmers.The Common Minimum Programme drawn up by the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance said expenditure for the project may be diverted towards farmers’ welfare programmes and a general farm loan waiver. Maharashtra had committed to a capital expenditure of Rs 5,000 crore for the project, which is expected to cut travel time between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to two hours. It will be finished in 2023.