June 8, 2021 1:58:27 am
NEARLY NINE months after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that a part of Aarey colony would be turned into a reserve forest, the Aarey Dairy Development handed over the 812 acres of land adjacent to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) to the state forest department on Monday.
In September last year, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said the government would designate a 600-acre parcel of land in the Aarey Milk Colony as a reserve forest.
Later, the government decided to expand the reserve forest in Aarey from 600 acres to 812 acres.
“The acquisition of the land parcel has paved the way for the expansion of vast forests in the heart of a metropolis like Mumbai,” read the press release from the state forest department.
The acquisition was by the Chief Conservator, Chief Forest Officer. Possession was taken in the presence of Borivali Tehsildar and Town Survey Officer Malad.
The land parcels include 125.422 hectares in Aarey, 71.631 hectares in Goregaon and 89.679 hectares in Marol Maroshi, which were handed over to the forest department.
In addition, 40.469 hectares of land in Marol Maroshi village has already been handed over to Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
The reserved forest area encompasses 107 land parcels from Aarey.
The government invoked Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, which means the government intends to declare the land as reserve forest by appointing a forest settlement officer (FSO).
Following the acquisition by the state forest department, the FSO will survey the area followed by suggestions and objections about land rights. The FSO will get 45 days to survey the area.
The officer will inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of any rights of any person on the said land. After the suggestions and objections and hearing, the government under Section 20 of IFA, 1927, will declare the final area as forest.
Once the area is declared as reserve forest, at a later stage, it can also be included in SGNP, giving it higher protection.
In an online address to the state last year, Thackeray had said, “Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be conserved and protected. Nowhere is there an 800-acre jungle in an urban set-up. Mumbai has natural forest cover. We know that jungles are converted to cities, but here, a city is converted to a jungle.”
The CM also directed that while deciding on the reserved forest area, the rights of the tribal community as well as other concerned should be kept intact.
Environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti said, “Crucial time was lost in this handover. Many encroachments have come up during the last one year… Two years ago we had requested for a drone and ground survey. That was not done. Having said that, we still thank the MVA government, the CM for honouring their promise. Hopefully now the forest department will proactively conserve the forest and the wildlife in it. But this should be the beginning of the process to conserve Aarey, not the end. More areas need to be surveyed and protected.”
Activist Zoru Bhathena of Save Aarey movement said, “I am delighted. We have long been awaiting this. Step by step we look forward to the entire Aarey being protected. Mumbai also needs it.”
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