Mumbai's Aarey Colony is a green belt in suburban Goregaon that has more than five lakh trees and is home to a wide variety of bird and animal species as well as 27 tribal villages. The Colony – the Aarey Milk Colony to be specific was set up in 1951 by the first PM of independent India, namely Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru after it was launched in 1949. It literally filled the otherwise noise city of Mumbai with a whiff of fresh air, filling in the space for breathing in some fresh air from the Green Belt as it came to be known. The Aarey forest makes Mumbai one of the unique metropolises of the world for having a true jungle within the growing jungle of concrete. This Green Belt is now in danger. Without legal backing or without the necessary permission being obtained, around 2700 trees were felled overnight in the darkness of night to create space for a car shed. The Bombay High Court had on October 4 refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest and refused to quash the Mumbai Municipal Corporations decision to allow the felling of over 2600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro car shed.

The proposed car shed is planned to accommodate the upcoming Mumbai Metro 3. And who is funding the car shed? It is being funded by a Japanese company known as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with 57% of the project cost which translated to about $2036 million. Where the remaining capital of 43% will come from is not known but can be guessed at as coming from inputs from corporate firms in India and abroad. 3500 trees are set to be cut and the protesting activists demanded that the government rethink the location of the car shed. Environmental experts have thrown up seven alternative locations for the car shed but the State Government could not be appeased and insisted on building the car shed in the area rendered free through the felling of trees. These experts have also pointed out how this felling of trees will encourage severe flooding, loss of open space, destruction of wild life and have an impact on the lives of the tribal communities settled there for ages.

To add to this, Mumbai Metro rail corporation Ltd.(MMRCL) has told JICA that the project site is located in city area and no wildlife is envisaged, while in reality, Aarey is a forest area , housing 76 species of birds, 80 species of butterflies , 16 species of mammals, 38 species of reptiles and 9 leopards, besides 0.4 million trees. Noted journalist Nirali Vaidya has begun a petition addressed to the Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis inviting signatures of the public to the petition seeking 1000,000 signatories and till now, half of this figure has already been reached.

29 protestors of the Save Aarey campaign were arrested yesterday for what the State considers to be “unlawful” and done minus “permission.” Since the Mumbai High Court remained adamant in taking any positive step,. On Monday October 7, The Supreme Court on Monday restrained authorities from cutting any more trees in Mumbai's Aarey to set up a Metro car shed. A special bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said it will have to examine the entire thing and posted the matter for hearing on October 21 before its forest bench. A Delhi-based Rishabh Ranjan 4th-year law student, wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India on behalf a student delegation on Sunday, just two days after the Bombay High Court dismissed the plea against felling of 2,646 trees at the Aarey colony by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited. “The 29 protestors arrested who were charged with non-bailable offences and released on Sunday, are mostly young students. If people thought India’s youth is largely consumerism driven engaged in fast foods and instant gratification, then they are mistaken. This is young India, undeterred, unplugged, and courageous to challenge governments, move courts, and fight till justice prevails,” says Nirali Vaidya.

The apex court directed that if anybody is still under arrest for protesting the cutting of trees, they should be released forthwith on furnishing of personal bonds. During the hearing the Maharashtra Government told the bench that all those arrested for protesting against cutting of trees in Aarey have been released. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra Government, submitted that he was not aware of all records and assured the bench that nothing will be cut in Aarey till the case is decided.

This story goes back to April this year when the Supreme Court had dismissed a PIL filed by the Aaarey Conservation Group seeking a direction be given to the Government of Maharashtra not to proceed with the metro car shed plan in the Aarey Forest and look for an alternative site. But the Supreme Court’s response was negative. It stated that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd had exhausted all options of an alternative site and as this was found to be true, the apex court had agreed with the MMRCL. Interestingly, the Government of Maharashtra has now decided that it no longer need to cut trees for the metro shed!

Nirali Vaidya sums up, “This decision reassures the oneness of our nation. Aarey, though an urban forest of Mumbai encourages Noida based law students to approach Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi seeking the court’s immediate intervention to stop the felling of trees in Mumbai. Besides, Save Aarey movement has got tremendous response from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Delhi, Raipur, and even Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities along with towns and villages.”

Read our earlier report here.

(Cover Photo: 29 Save Aarey protesters released on bail)