BY QUAID NAJMI
Mumbai, Oct 11 (IANS) In a significant decision by Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday announced that the proposed new car shed for Mumbai Metro will be shifted to a new location at Kanjurmarg to save the forests of Aarey Colony in Goregaon.
“We have decided to construct the car shed on government land at Kanjurmarg, entailing no additional financial burden on the exchequer. The expenditure of around Rs 100 crore spent on a building at Aarey Colony will not go waste as it will be deployed for an appropriate use,” Thackeray said in an address to the state.
“Two Metro corridors — Colaba-Bandra-Seepz (Line 3) and Swami Samarth Nagar-Vikhroli (Line 6) — shall be integrated. I am happy to announce that the Aarey car shed is now being moved to Kanjurmarg,” he said.
Thackeray also said that an additional 200 acres of land will be reserved as “forest” in the Aarey Colony, besides the 600 acres declared last month, both linked to Mumbai’s sole jungle, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivali.
“The orders to the effect were issued last night (October 10) and will take up the new forest area (from 600 acres) to 800 acres which will be a boon to the city’s environment,” said Thackeray as thrilled environmentalists and green activists all over the state thumped their approval.
With this, the forest cover of Mumbai will go up from the existing 103 square km to 106 square km, mostly within the SGNP.
Thackeray reiterated that the cases filed against activists and groups who agitated to protect Aarey Colony forest would be withdrawn.
“Aarey Saved!” was the telling tweet of Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray – who had last year warned of dealing appropriately with “the murderers of Aarey Colony forests”.
However, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slammed the move, arguing that it will cost an additional Rs 5,000 crore and delay the project by five years, besides an additional 8-km run daily to park the trains, adding to operating costs.
“And where is the land.. Marshy land? Or the disputed land for which the Bombay High Court has asked the state government to deposit Rs 2,000 crore?” asked BJP state Vice President Kirit Somaiya.
The move comes exactly a year after the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) authorities in early October 2019, ordered butchering of a staggering 2,141 trees in 40 hours – or at the rate of one tree per minute, creating a nationwide furore. (IANS report October 10, 2019)
At that time, the then MMRCL Managing Director Ashwini Bhide had defended the tree-cutting spree, saying: “Sometime to create something new destruction becomes inevitable but it also paves the way for new life and new creation.”
It became one of the major triggers that soured relations between the Bharatiya Janata Party’s alliance with the Shiv Sena, coming barely weeks before the October 2019 Assembly elections.
Amid the uproar and the subsequent poll verdict of a hung assembly, the Shiv Sena joined hands with Nationalist Congress Party and Congress to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government with Thackeray as the Chief Minister in November 2019.
“The SGNP supports a rich variety of flora and fauna, including many endangered, over a 1,300 species of plants, 250 species of migratory, terrestrial and water birds, 5,000-plus insects, 170 varieties of butterflies, besides the world’s largest Atlas Moth which has a wingspan of over 30 cms,” naturalist Shardul Bajikar told IANS.
Spread over 106 square kms, the lush green SGNP, of which Aarey Colony is a buffer zone, has the distinction of being the only national park in the world located within a metropolitan city with a population of nearly two crore.
With a history over nearly 25 centuries, the SGNP is home to the famed 2,400-year old Kanheri Caves and three fresh water bodies – Vihar Lake, Tulsi Lake and Powai Lake in the northern part of the country’s commercial capital.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])