Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday announced that 800 acres of land in the Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai would be declared as a reserve forest, Mumbai Mirror reported. He also said that the car shed for a metro project in the area would be relocated to Kanjurmarg.
The decision is a revision of the government’s declaration last month, when it had announced that 600 acres of land in the area would be declared a forest.
Thackeray announced that the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz (Metro 3) line and Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli (Metro 6) line would be merged, according to Hindustan Times.
“The land will be available at zero rate,” Thackeray said in his address to the state, according to the Mumbai Mirror. “The building which has come up in Aarey Forest will be utilised for some other public purpose. About Rs 100 crore expenditure was incurred for it and it won’t go waste.”
The chief minister added: “Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be conserved and protected. Nowhere is there an 800-acre jungle in an urban set up. Mumbai has a natural forest cover.”
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Thackeray added that his government will withdraw all cases against the activists who protested the felling of trees in the area. “There will be no infringement on the rights of tribals in Aarey area,” he was quoted as saying by Mumbai Mirror. “The state cabinet has decided to withdraw cases against people who had protested against the hacking of trees in Aarey Colony last year.”
The move was announced by Maharashtra Environment Tourism Protocol Minister Aaditya Thackeray earlier this month too.
After the chief minister’s address, Aaditya Thackeray took to Twitter to welcome the decision. “Aarey Saved!,” he tweeted.
Aaditya Thackeray was one of the leaders in the state who had raised concern over the cutting down of the trees 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.
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 2019, 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 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for the car shed.
The Supreme Court had intervened in the case after a group of law students wrote to the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.