Seeking protection for tribals residing on the premises of Aarey Colony, Shiv Sena MLA Ravindra Waikar and local corporator Jitendra Walvi have filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking “complete removal” of leopards from the area.
The PIL states that 1,800 tribal families reside in the 29 padas in Aarey colony. Tribals were given plots for rice cultivation since 1861, the PIL said. “The lives of the tribals residing in Aarey Colony are affected because of the fear of attacks by leopards,” the PIL said. It alleged that the state government had shown scant regard for the tribals’ lives and failed to protect them.
The PIL urged the court to direct the state government “to protect the lives of tribals in Aarey Colony by completely removing the leopards and wild animals from the area of Aarey Colony and shifting them elsewhere.”
Waikar, an MLA from Jogeshwari (East), said that on May 31, 2013 he had raised the question over the action against leopard attacks in the Budget session. The state government, he claims, had suggested “superficial and ineffective measures without taking any concrete steps to save the lives of the tribals.”
The PIL also said the tribal hamlets inside Aarey colony had no emergency medical facilities. Private hospitals outside Aarey Colony have refused to admit victims of leopard attacks, resulting in their death, the PIL claims. The PIL also said the tribals should be provided “suitable alternate accommodation” and the state government must implement schemes of redevelopment for the benefit of residents of Aarey Colony.
This, the PIL claims, will benefit the state government too as it can reclaim the 150 acres of land under the occupation of these tribal families. The Aarey residents must also be provided facilites such as a school, electricity, foodgrains through public distribution system, water and roads.
Waikar annexed a letter written to Patangrao Kadam, minister for forests, rehabilitation and earthquake relief works, on August 10, 2014 enlisting the attacks on tribals. He cited six cases of leopard attacks in Aarey Colony since May 2012. In three of these attacks, two middle-aged women and a five-year-old child were killed.
He also cited ten other instances of attacks or spotting of leopards in peripheral areas of Aarey Milk Colony. In two of these attacks, children aged seven and two were killed, according to Waikar’s letter. The PIL has also urged the court to direct the state government to pay compensation to the victims of these attacks or their families.
Vikas Gupta, chief conservator of forests, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, said, “Parts of Aarey are natural habitats of some leopards so where is the question of shifting them? It is not possible to do that. Where do we send them? Simple precautionary measures such as keeping surroundings clean of garbage and not roaming alone at night without adequate light can resolve the conflict. Shifting them out is not the solution.”