Despite the Shiv Sena’s fierce opposition to a Metro car shed inside Aarey milk colony, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is in no mood to give in. Fadnavis government will persist with its decision of deleting a no-development zone land in Aarey to build a car shed for the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro line. On Wednesday, the Shiv Sena-led Improvements Committee in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) voted against the proposal for deleting the reservation. Then, on Thursday, Yuva Sena chief and Shiv Sena’s heir apparent Aditya Thackeray targeted the chief minister and the BJP over the issue.
“Mumbai won’t be bullied into giving up Aarey green for the Metro depot when other alternatives are available. While I fully support the need for a Metro system in Mumbai, the damage being done to Aarey is ridiculous,” the Thackeray scion said.
Taking a further swipe at the BJP, Thackeray said, “While on the one hand, the Centre speaks of the Paris agreement and the commitment to fighting climate change, locally we damage Aarey forest. I wonder if our (government’s) statements on climate change are merely for grabbing headlines.”
Last December, ahead of the crucial municipality polls in Mumbai, where the two parties were pitted against one another, the Fadnavis government had initiated the de-reservation process for a 33-hectare NDZ land parcel inside Aarey for the car depot.
The CM-led Urban Development department had brought out a notification for the deletion of the existing reservation. The entire land parcel was alternatively reserved for the “Metro car depot/workshop, allied activities, and commercial zone.”
Aditya Thackeray, who is being projected by the Shiv Sena as a pro-environment face, had opposed the move even then. When the proposal was tabled before the Shiv Sena-led improvements committee, Shiv Sena corporators toed his line.
While the Shiv Sena leadership’s barb at the BJP caught some eyeballs, it may not yield any result. Sources said that Fadnavis, who had projected measures for setting up a network of Metro lines to ease traffic congestion in the metropolis as his major achievement during the civic poll campaign, has already firmed his opinion to build the car depot at Aarey. Since the modification was initiated using powers vested in his government, sources said that the civic committee’s rejection to the proposal did not count for much.
But government sources said that the “commercial zone” reservation may be done away with. According to information, the government’s notification in December has seen 2,280-odd objections and suggestions being raised. While both Fadnavis and Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation’s Managing Director Ashwini Bhide have said that there were no immediate plans for any commercial exploitation of the land parcel, many objections had raised the apprehensions in this regard. Under consideration is a proposal to withdraw the commercial zone reservation altogether. Sources said that about 3 hectare land had initially been set aside for “commercial” activity. This may not be permitted.
Thackeray, meanwhile, remained defiant. “The Mumbai Metro Corporation can still save Aarey rather than bully all. It is ridiculous to justify damaging a forest by saying public transport will save environment. An alternative (for the depot) is available,” he said.
But Fadnavis has already ruled out the relocation of the depot. When protests against the Aarey car depot had peaked in March 2015, he had constituted a committee under Mumbai Metropolitan Commissioner, U P S Madan, to study whether the depot could be situated elsewhere. In April 2016, the committee submitted its report, ruling out relocation. But the alignment was modified to minimise the green damage and prevent chopping of 50 per cent of the affected trees. The government has also said that for each tree axed for the project, it would plant three more.