IN 24 hours since 9 pm on Friday, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cut as many as 2,134 trees in Aarey Milk Colony, senior officials said Saturday.
The MMRCL had sprung into action hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed a clutch of petitions challenging the felling of trees in Aarey to make way for a Metro 3 car shed. The agency deployed a team of 70 men for clearing the area demarcated for the car shed of 2,646 trees. The MMRCL will fell 2,185 trees and transplant 461 others for the project.
A senior officer from MMRCL said, “We were prepared since the Tree Authority had given a go-ahead to cutting of trees last month. On Friday evening, when we got the judgment in our favor, we started work execution on the site as we are already 12 months behind schedule for the car shed.”
Despite several attempts, MMRCL officials remained unavailable for comment. However, sources in the corporation said that the MMRCL “was legally correct and followed all legal procedures before cutting the trees”.
Within two hours since 9 pm on Friday, the MMRCL team axed 450 trees with the help electric machines, a senior officer said. “However, due to protests by local tribals and other people, the work was a halted from 11 pm to 12.30 am. After which, with the help of local police, we managed to cut 2,134 trees till 9 pm on Saturday,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, police said Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) — that prevents the assembly of more than four persons — which was imposed at Aarey Colony on Saturday, will remain in place till Sunday. Additional Commissioner of Police, North region, Dilip Sawant said: “Section 144 will be imposed in Aarey Colony till tomorrow (Sunday) and we will decide whether to continue it or not, during the day, depending on the situation.”
On Saturday morning, around 500 police personnel manned the three access roads to the Aarey Colony — Marol, Powai and Western Express Highway (Goregaon East) — allowing only locals to enter the premises since 3.30 am. Every citizen and vehicle wanting to enter the premises had to provide photo identity, address proof or permit at every checkpoint. Only school buses were given access.
“I had left for work in the morning, when I was returning to Aarey, they (police) asked for photo proof. I don’t carry address and photo proofs everyday with me. They (police) have detained my son, who was walking towards our home,” Smita Ghosalkar, a resident of one of the tribal hamlets, said. Her son was among the 29 protestors sent to judicial custody by a magistrate on Saturday.
Families of nine boys, detained since Friday night, also camped outside the Aarey police station Saturday morning. “They detained our children and have made them sit on floor and are humiliating them. They are being treated as criminals. All of us (tribals) have been living here since over 50 years, this is our house and we are saving it,” Sandhya Jadhav, another resident of Aarey Colony, said.
Meanwhile, several of the ‘Save Aarey’ activists and students, who had gathered at Goregaon East to protest against the “high-handedness” of Mumbai police and felling of trees by MMRCL, were taken to Dahisar, Vanrai and Samta Nagar police stations, among others, on Saturday morning.
Activist Cassendra Nazareth said she was dragged and detained along with two students for recording a video of the police bandobast and the assembly at the entrance on Saturday morning.
Former Mayor Shubha Raul, Shiv Sena corporator Sheetal Mhatre and Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi were among those detained on Saturday.
Fearing detention of more residents, activists moved their protest to Powai Lake and Thane later on Saturday.
“There are photos of trees outside the car depot plot, on opposite side of the road. They (MMRCL) don’t have any permission for cutting these trees for sure. These trees are not part of the tree cutting proposal,” activist Zoru Bathena, who had moved the Bombay High Court with an urgent petition seeking stay on the tree felling at Aarey, said. A bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and A K Menon has, however, rejected their plea on Saturday.
Residents stranded as police impose prohibitory orders
Tribals living in Aarey hamlets were either forced to stay indoors or stopped from entering their own hamlets after Mumbai police imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the area on Saturday.
Rakesh Tadvi, who lives in Kumbharwada, said his children could not go to school as police had cordoned off all entry and exit points in morning. “I could only reach my own home late on Friday night. There was a lathi charge on protesters,” he said.
By Saturday morning, several BEST buses service did not ply on usual routes. Police reportedly also asked residents to produce Aadhaar card before allowing entry into Aarey Colony.
Devki Bhoe, a resident of Vanitapada, had left for college early morning without facing police constraints, but by the time she returned, Section 144, which prohibits gathering of more than four people, had been imposed. “Police asked her for her Aadhaar card. She was not carrying one, so they did not let her through,” her sister Usha Bhoe told The Indian Express. Devki had to wait till her father could bring her identity proof from home. ENS