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The Government Resumes Metro Car shed Work Amid Protest by Environmentalists

by Raju Vernekar
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By Raju Vernekar
Mumbai, July 26:

The tranquil environs of Aarey Forest in North Mumbai have been witnessing massive protests in the last few days against the resumption of Metro rail III car shed work by the new BJP-Shinde Government in Maharashtra with regular agitations held to oppose the proposed car shed.
The police have been intercepting outsiders entering the area and have put up barricades on roads and have been diverting the traffic to prevent the protestors from entering the area. On Sunday the police detained the protestors- Laxman Jadhav, Rohit Jadhav, Tabrez Ali Sayyed, and Jayesh Bhise, under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) on charges of unlawful assembly.
On Monday, while the protest continued outside Aarey, some protestors staged a sit-in agitation outside the Vanrai police station in Goregaon East demanding the release of the detained protesters. They were eventually released after a 10-hour detention around 8.30 pm on Monday.
Environmentalists from across the country including Nagpur, Varanasi, and Hyderabad have already begun staging symbolic protests in support of the “Save Aarey Joint Action Committee” spearheading the case.
The protests have begun in Aarey since the new Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government, in one of its first decisions after coming to power, decided to move the Mumbai Metro III car shed back to Aarey, against the earlier Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government’s decision to construct it at Kanjur Marg in North East Mumbai. 
Shortly after he assumed as the Deputy Chief Minister, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis directed the state’s urban development department to begin the process of constructing a car shed in Aarey.
Initially, the then BJP-Shiv Sena Government led by Fadnavis had proposed to construct the car shed at Aarey in 2019. The Shiv Sena, despite being in the Government, had opposed the move at that time. Several Shiv Sena leaders including MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and Aditya Uddhav Thackeray had joined the protest at the site.
The Bombay High Court in September 2019, verbally directed the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) and the state government not to cut any trees in the Aarey forest area for the construction of a metro car shed. However, in October 2019, the Bombay High Court dismissed all petitions against the proposed cutting down of over 2,500 trees in the Aarey Colony. In response to the Court’s order, the MMRCL cut down over 2,000 trees in just 24 hours.
When the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA Government came to power in November 2019, it reversed the decision taken by the earlier government and proposed to shift the car shed site to Kanjurmarg. 
Some portion of the Aarey, which is part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, was declared an eco-sensitive zone in 2016. Further the MVA Government declared 800 acres of land as a reserved forest. The Aarey forest is a 1,800-acre area, often termed Mumbai’s “green lung” which accommodates 27 Adivasi villages and inhabits various animal species.
Now under the instructions of the BJP-Shinde Government, the MMRCL which comes under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has restored the work of the construction of the car shed and has begun cutting the trees.
As per the Tree Authority, set up by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in 1976, under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, a tree officer must be present at the site whenever a tree is cut. However, no BMC official was present when in a stretch of 5-6 km many trees were cut at the same time on Monday. Also, no permission for cutting the trees was shown to those who protested, activist Amrita Bhattacharjee said. 
While the issue of the site for the car shed continues to remain disputed, the Bombay high court has already stayed the order passed by the Mumbai suburban district collector allotting 102 acres of salt pan land in the Kanjurmarg area for the car shed, restraining the authorities from carrying out any construction work on the said land, on December 14, 2020.
The 33-km-long underground metro 3 project aims to connect Colaba in south Mumbai and SEEPZ in North West Mumbai. Now there is a strong possibility of the environmentalists taking up the issue to court once again.

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