Hours after the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition challenging Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority’s decision to fell over 2,000 trees in the Aarey area of Mumbai’s Goregaon, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) Friday evening began cutting trees for the construction of the Metro Line 3 rake depot.
Overnight there were massive protests which continued till Saturday morning after activists and students gathered in large numbers. Eventually, Section 144 had to be imposed in the Aarey colony to limit the flow of protesters. Three Shiv Sena leaders and four party workers have been detained from Goregaon.
Mumbai Police registers an FIR against as many as 40 protesters under IPC sections 332, 353, 143 and 149, a police spokesperson told The Indian Express.
DCP (Operations) of Mumbai Police Pranaya Ashok, issued a statement claiming that the allegations made against the police regarding the Aarey bandobast are false and that all due procedures were followed.
The statement read: “The allegations made by some persons of high handedness by Mumbai Police during the Aarey bandobast are false. All due procedures and legally valid steps were taken while handling the situation yesterday. The situation currently is peaceful and due legal procedures are being followed.”
In a late-night response, activists had reached the 33-hectare land to protest against the felling of trees. The police, in turn, took to lathi charging the protesters and Adivasis who live there. Activists allege that at least 300 trees have already been cut.
‘Violent’ protests over Aarey tree-felling
The site of the proposed car shed saw heavy police deployment late Friday night as hundreds of people gathered to stop trees from being hacked. Protesters claimed they were beaten up and their clothes were torn by the police who tried to forcefully get them off the property.
“Police is hitting people, including the Adivasis at the protest site. They have applied force on several people. Adivasi girls are sitting inside and are refusing to leave. We all are in the police car. Police have detained people and taken them to different police stations. Another police van full of girls is waiting near the picnic point on the road,” a protestor told The Indian Express.
Watch | Protestors are dragged from Metro car depot site in #Aarey Colony
Another protester accused the police of being “very violent” and that they tried to hit him with lathis.
“Police is stopping people who are reaching near car depot site. Still, they are here and coming in more numbers. People are singing hum honge kaamyab,” a protester at the site said.
At least 30 to 40 people were taken to Vanrai police station in Goregaon East while as many as 26 people continue to be detained at Dahisar Police Station.
In pictures | Protests at Mumbai’s Aarey over tree-felling
Aarey protests: Political leaders react
Shiv Sena’s youth wing president Aditya Thackeray slammed the MMRCL for “senselessly” destroying the Aarey vicinity. In a series of tweets, the Shiv Sena scion expressed his displeasure at the action taken by the MMRCL and asked why protesting citizens were being treated “like criminals”.
The @ShivSena ‘s @sheetalmhatre1 ji & Shubha Raul ji at Aarey. Even @prabhu_suneel ji has been standing up for it with the citizens. Wonder why @MumbaiMetro3 is treating Mumbaikars like criminals and not listening to sensible demand of sustainable development. https://t.co/ZdjF8ttKTk
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) October 4, 2019
He even took a jab at the Centre for having a ministry for climate change while Aarey was being destroyed.
Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Nirupam called it the “saddest day in Mumbai” and condemned the government and MMRCL.
He tweeted: “It looks tree cutting in #AareyForest has started. Its saddesr day in Mumbai. I condemn the govt,MMRCL and all those who support car shed in Aarey.”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Preeti Menon Sharma called the felling of trees a violation of the Model Code of Conduct as the state will go to polls on October 21.
She further accused the Devendra Fadnavis-led government of “going mad with power and greed”, and accused opposition parties of being “dead”. She claimed the Shiv Sena had “sold” itself.
The AAP leader participated in the protest movement, she was accompanied by some activists of the party at Aarey and they sat down on the road in protest and refused to move.
Aarey protest triggers outrage on social media
The late-night action by the MMRCL kicked up a social media storm with hundreds of people reaching Aarey to protest the hacking of trees. Some people posted pictures and videos of the authority in the act. As the crowd swelled, police deployment was increased and protesters were detained.
Several hashtags started trending on Twitter like #SaveAareyForest, #blackdayAarey, #AareyForest, #AareyColony as users tagged Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis voicing their anger at the government’s decision.
Meanwhile, Managing Director of MMRCL Ashwini Bhide on Twitter claimed the protesters consider themselves “superior to judiciary” and that “their own actions are foul”.
She wrote: “Hon. Bombay HC has dismissed all petitions in unequivocally clear terms 2de. But sm people consider themselves superior 2 Judiciery as well. While their own actions r illegal they city foul. If you lose a battle in court, better to accept it honourably than to take it to street.”