By Kewali Kabir

(The content in the article written by. Kewali Kabir of  S.L. Memorial school , Guna (M.P.) are his personal opinion)

The Aarey Milk Colony is once again back in the limelight, as the notion to protect the green lungs of Mumbai, rages in the hearts of Mumbaikars, due to the ongoing controversy of Mumbai Metro Rail project. 

After a 10 day political drama in Maharashtra during which Shiv Sena rebel Shinde orchestrated a coup against the Shiv Sena; took oath as Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Devendra Fadnavis as the Deputy CM, on 30th of June. 
After outcasting the full fledged, democratically elected MVA government  
one of the first decisions of the Shindes Cabinet was to reverse the previous government’s 2020 decision to relocate a proposed Mumbai Metro shed project from Aarey Colony, bringing the almost decade-long battle back in the limelight. 

Elongated over,  1,300 hectares of forest land in the northern suburb of Goregaon, Aarey is pinpointed near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). Termed the metropolis’ green lung, Aarey is home to several aboriginal species of trees and varied flora and fauna. 

The Aarey Milk Colony 

The story of Aarey goes back to the time when India gained Independence and Mumbai was making an appearance as a dream point of disembarkation  for business and for building a life. To support its burgeoning population and economy, the briskly-growing city needed easily accessible agricultural produce. It was this requirement that gave birth to the Aarey Milk Colony. 

In 1949, around 1,300 acres were allocated to the State Department of Dairy Development. The prescience was to commence a separate area to rationalize  Mumbai’s unhygienic and unorganised cattle sheds and give a propulsion to the production and supply of dairy products. 
The acknowledgement of this idea goes to then Bombay milk commissioner Dara N Khurody. And in the year 1951, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru formally inaugurated the milk colony by planting a sapling. 

Over the years, as the jungle of concrete around the woody area detonated, Aarey became apparent as a paradise for biodiversity, a home for the Adivasis domiciling its villages and the ‘last green lungs’ of Mumbai — one of the most contaminated conurbation of the world. 

The Metro Project 

The ongoing controversy has its genesis in 2014. When, the then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan laid the foundation stone on 26 August, 2014 for the 32.5 km Cola - Bandra - Seepz underground Metro Corridor, at the Aarey Milk Colony, paving the plight for beginning of work. Furthermore this project was approved by the Central Government. 

A patch of 30 hectares — the land use of which was later changed to ‘development zone’ — was handed over for the Mumbai Metro Line-3 project. The project is being executed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) which is a joint venture of the Government of India and the Maharashtra government. Later that year, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis took over as the Maharashtra CM. He proceeded with his predecessor’s plan. 

The proposed car depot will have an administrative building, operation control, inspection and maintenance workshops and stabling lines for parking of trains, according to the MMRCL. According to the proposal of the Metro Rail Corporation, out of a total of 2702 trees, 2,238 trees were to be cut. The rest had to be transferred from here. Therefore threating the biodiversity of Aarey "the last green lungs" of Mumbai. 

The Aarey Controversy 

In 2019 ,  Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Trees Authority  granted permission to the Mumbai Metro rail Corporation (MMRC) to cut and transplant nearly 2,700 trees in the Aarey Colony for the construction of a Metro car depot of the Metro 3 line. Since then there has been an over going tussle between the government and environmentalists over the shed. 
The first phase of the Metro project, which started in 2014, has been completed from Versova to Ghatkopar. After its expansion, the metro needed a parking shed. After exploring the entire Mumbai, the company associated with the metro project chose Aarey for the further construction and BMC also approved the cutting of trees. 
As soon as the people of Mumbai came to know about this decision, they started opposing it. Aarey Colony is like a sigh of relief in a concrete jungle city like Mumbai. 

When the dispute escalated, the matter reached the court. City-based NGO, Vanshakti had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court to declare the entire 1280-hectare of the Aarey Colony as a Reserved Forest or a Protected Forest as the case could be under the Indian Forest Act 1927. 

During that time, protesters including residents, activists, Congress members, Shiv Sena members and many Bollywood personalities also raised their voices. People started gathering like Chipko movement to protest the cutting down of the trees. 
In response to protests, the State government constituted a technical committee in 2015 to look into the environmental impact of the proposed project. 

The committee recommended relocating the car depot project to Kanjurmarg in Mumbai, with a small stabilising unit at Aarey. A few months later, Vanashakti filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT),claiming that the MMRCL was engaged in illegal construction in Aarey. Meanwhile, residents of the Aarey Milk Colony also moved the Bombay High Court, alleging that their land had been illegally acquired for the car shed. 

Meanwhile, despite protests, the MMRCL began cutting down trees in Aarey on October 4, 2019. 

The Bombay HC was approached the following day, but the court refused to issue a stay. Overnight felling of trees and no respite from the judiciary triggered anger and dismay among Aarey residents, activists and other protesters. Hundreds of policemen were deployed and Section 144 was invoked. A clash between protesters and police followed. 

Later , a group of law students approached the office of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi seeking immediate intervention to stop felling of trees in Aarey forest in Mumbai. 

In a letter petition, the students asked the court to exercise its epistolary jurisdiction for "environmental concerns and protection of Aarey without getting into technicalities as there was no time for preparation of proper appeal petition". 

On October 7, the SC took cognisance of the letter and ordered the Maharashtra government not to cut any more trees in Aarey. The State government agreed to comply and told the court that whatever was required for the Metro car shed had been cut; in a statement, the MMRC stated that 2,141 trees had been cut. With this , the project was halted. 

Around a month letter , The Shivsena - Congress - NCP coalition came to power.  On 28 November 2019,Uddhav Thackeray took the oath as 19th Chief Minister of Maharashtra, in coalition with NCP & Congress. 

Just a year after, in October 2020, CM Uddhav Thackeray announced the scrapping of the Metro Car shed at Aarey colony and said that it would be moved to Kanjumarg in Eastern suburbs, 

And the CM has also reiterated that the government has decided to withdraw cases lodged by Police against the citizens and activists protesting against the car shed at Aarey Colony. 

He also declared 800 acre area of Aarey Land as forest reserves (government had earlier declared 600 acres as reserve) And remarked that there will be no infringement on rights of Tribal in this area. 

The situation, however, changed with the change in guard at the top as CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, in their first Cabinet meeting on July 1, directed the Advocate General of Maharashtra to submit an application before the Bombay HC, stating that the Metro car shed will be moved back to Aarey from Kanjurmarg. 

Aarey Forests: Mumbais Green lungs. 
The vertiable green lungs" act as a buffer for the national park , and forms a catchment for the Vihar lake which is the source of drinking water and offers flood and pollution control. Therefore making Mumbai as the only city to have a national park, within its municipal limits probably it is the last green space left in the Indias densest city. It is spread over 1800 acres, comprising of about 4 lakh trees, accompanied by 300 species of animals found in Aarey. 

The Aarey forests not only provides fresh air and soothing environment to people of the city but it is also a key habitat for wildlife, including some endemic species. A lot of endangered animals  exist in these areas. There is a proper wildlife corridor here, and there have been leopard sightings here, and leopard itself is an endangered animal. And a number of species of endangered animals are found here that make up entire Aarey as an ecosystem. Recent scientific discoveries in Aarey show that presence of 4 rare species of spider and 1 of Scorpion. 
The forest has some 4 lakh trees and also has a couple of rivers and some lakes flowing through it. Including the majestic, 75 bird species, 80 butterfly species and 38 types of reptiles. 

Due to the largest green patch, the environment remains pure. And cutting down the trees will have a long time effect and cast its shadow on the future of Mumbai. 

With increasing pollution Aarey serve as a safety blanket for the people. And cutting them down will have an impact on both the present and future generations, that will live in the city. 

Aarey forest guarding Mumbai from floods: 

Cutting down of Aarey forest will not only be dangerous for the environment, rather due to this, there will be a flood-like danger near Mumbais international airport as The location of the new capitalist induced projects is in the catchment area of Mithi river. Aarey functions as a source of origin for two major rivers, Mithi and Oshiwara , and this will disrupt the hydrological process as well as drainage patterns in the region. 

Due to the trees the rain water stagnates. If there are no trees, then the extra rain water will go to Mithi river. This will cause displacement of tribal, affecting their livelihoods, affect wildlife habitats and reducing forest cover in future due to the ecological disturbances, fear experts. 

Aarey is home to thousands of tribal people. 
Cutting down of Aarey will snatch away the homes of tribal communities. This capitalist induced degradation of deforestation will lead to the tribal, loosing their home, their land, their livelihood, their everything. So that the urban sprawl can increase. 

There are 27 Aadivasi Villages compromising of over 10,000 tribal. This car shed project is threat to their "Right to life". 

Tight rope walk between Development and Environment: 

If development is compromising with sustainability of environment then it is not development it is threat to "Right to Life". 
We should not forget that the goal of sustainable development is to provide resources for the use of present populations without compromising the availability of those resources for future generations, and without causing environmental damage that challenges the survival of other species and natural ecosystems.  
And by destroying Aarey Forests we are destroying the future of the upcoming generations . Moreover Aareys biodiversity will be rendered homeless in the name of development. And this all is at a time when the exacerbating effects of Global Warming are hitting us.