LESS THAN a week after the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) was forced to move out of an Aarey plot, it was back on Thursday and this time with police protection. Around noon, when five Metro workers reached the Aarey site, they found half-a- dozen policemen deployed. Gradually as the work picked up pace, the number of policemen rose to 50. Armed with batons and riot helmets, Mumbai police ensured that the Metro 3 work was not interrupted, especially by activists opposed to the project. Last week, when MMRC first began conducting geotechnical survey on an ‘unauthorised’ Aarey plot, the workers were coerced to leave the site by locals and activists. With Metro officials now trying to make up for lost time, the work will continue under the ‘protection’ of the Mumbai police until the situation becomes ‘less hostile’, MMRC officials said.
Activists have pointed out that the current work was being undertaken on land where the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has placed a stay on all metro work. MMRC, however, maintains that there is no stay order on the land and they are free to begin work. “There is no stay at all on the land. We began our geotechnical survey today and we faced no trouble because of the police protection. The bandobast will continue for a few more days until the situation calms down,” a senior MMRC official told The Indian Express.
“If the stay has been vacated then why did they ask for permissions for soil testing in the NGT court yesterday? They insistently asked and were denied by the court thrice. If they have the permissions let them prove it,” said activist Biju Augustine. Senior police inspector Vijay Oulkar, who was supervising the police bandobast, said that MMRC had approached them requesting their assistance to ensure that work was not interrupted again. “We do not want any interference in their work and will take necessary action. We have already warned the activists in this regard,” said Oulkar.
On Wednesday night, hours before the Metro work restarted, activists from Aarey Conservation Group (ACG), were summoned to the Aarey police station and were “warned” not to create any further trouble for the metro work. “For extra precautions, they were even asked to stay more than 100 metres away from the work site. Seeing them on the site on Thursday morning, the police escorted them outside the land,” said a senior police officer. Police officers did not allow activists on Thursday afternoon to “unlawfully gather” on the site.
The Metro work is being carried out on land currently occupied by cattle owners. According to them, the first day of the metro work in their area has already disturbed the animals. “One of their barricades is right next to the animal’s watering area and due to the noise, the cattle have refused to drink water. They have spread themselves all over the tabela land and make it impossible to conduct daily activities,” says IJ Singh, cattle owners from Unit 19. The soil testing is being conducted for a ramp that will create an incline for the underground Metro to come on ground after crossing SEEPZ and entering the Aarey car depot. The construction will eventually lead to the eviction of the cattle owners from their residential quarters.