The Maharashtra government on Wednesday decided to declare 600 acres of land in Aarey Milk Colony near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai as a reserve forest and conserve it.
Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray said the state government has decided to constitute the land as a reserve forest under Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act. “Approximately 600 acres of open land being declared as forest while all rights of Adivasi communities will stand protected,” he said in a twee. “Rehabilitation of slums within the area would be expedited. This would be phase one, for which the Forest Department will move a proposal.”
After this, the authorities will undertake a survey for additional open or forest land in Aarey in the second phase of the project, the environment minister said. “This would help the state protect the flora and fauna existent in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey.”
The decision was taken during a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who claimed that this would be the first instance of an “extensive forest blossoming” within the limits of a metropolis anywhere in the world.
The meeting was attended by Aaditya Thackeray, Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod, Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde and Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar, according to PTI.
A statement released by the Maharashtra government said the area to be excluded from the forest will be ascertained after seeking suggestions and objections from citizens. Besides this, construction of “all types, roads, slums, adivasi pockets and government facilities” will be excluded from the first phase of the initiative, it added.
The decision came days after Uddhav Thackeray convened a meeting to discuss the fate of the construction of the metro car shed inside the Aarey Colony, during which he told officials to look for an alternative location for the facility, according to Mumbai Mirror.
The proposal to build a metro rail car shed on 30 hectares of the Aarey Colony land had faced stiff opposition from concerned citizens, who wanted to protect Mumbai’s last green lung from concretisation. 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.
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, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the carshed.