The Maharashtra Cabinet has decided to withdraw cases filed against activists who protested the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, state Minister of Tourism and Environment Aaditya Thackeray said on Wednesday. In October 2019, several people were booked in connection with the protests against the authorities’ move to cut trees for building a metro car shed on 30 hectares of the Aarey Colony land.
Thackeray said that the decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting. He said that the protestors were concerned citizens standing up for the future of the planet. “To hold them from stopping desired work was one thing but to press police charges was another,” the environment minister tweeted. “We can’t have cases against those who stand up for environment and forests.”
Thackeray thanked the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government for “for prioritising and realising the importance of sustainable development and green governance and supporting such issues”.
Thackeray was one of the leaders in the state who had raised concern over the cutting down of the tress in October 2019, when the Shiv Sena was part of the ruling government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. After Uddhav Thackeray became the chief minister, he stayed the construction of the metro rail car shed.
“These were citizens/ protestors standing for the future of our planet,” he had said. “To hold them from stopping desired work was one thing but to press police charges was another. We can’t have cases against those who stand up for environment and forests.”
Uddhav Thackeray had assured the protestors that the cases would be withdrawn. However, the process for it had not begun.
Following the arrests, the protestors have faced various problems such as finding a job, applying for a passport and continuing their home rental agreements.
— Aarey Conservation Group member Rohit Joshi
Around 10 days ago, a delegation of ACG, including me, along with the protesters who were charged met state cabinet minister Jitendra Awhad to propose the withdrawal of cases. We discussed how they were facing issues in their everyday life. We thank the state and especially [Housing Minister Jitendra] Awhad ji for today’s decision by the cabinet.”
In October last year, the citizens had staged a massive protest against the felling of trees, leading to the police arresting several of them. 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. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had till October 2019 cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the car shed.