March 31, 2016 2:20:26 am
IN A hearing before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday, a clarification has been sought from the state forest department on whether Aarey colony is a forest area. Despite an affidavit filed by the forest department in a previous hearing before the tribunal, there has been no clarity given on the status of Aarey colony. A rejoinder filed by NGO Vanashakti, a respondent in the case, states there are discrepancies in documents submitted by the forest department.
The department has referred to an Expert Committee Report of 1997 and another report prepared by them in 2008 which though records an area of 3774.50 hectares as ‘forest land’ in Mumbai suburban district, does not clarify which area they are referring to, the rejoinder claims.
It points out that as per the report one part of the forest area as examined from the hillock near Film City, has been ‘wrongly and absurdly’ recorded to have mangroves. “The forest area of this region is nearly 6kms from the coast. It is impossible for mangroves to grow in hillocks at the location mentioned. By no stretch of imagination can this area have mangrove like forests. A plausible explanation is that terrestrial forestland which is Aarey, has been referred to as mangrove forest land erroneously,” the rejoinder states. The NGT has directed a status-quo in the case and sought a clarification from the forest department till the next hearing on April 29.
“We have sought location wise details of all areas declared as forests in the suburban district of Mumbai to seek clarity on Aarey colony since the Committee’s report has many discrepancies which do not tally. For instance, the report claims that there are no forests in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, which forms the highest forest cover in the state,” said D Stalin, director of projects of Vanashakti. The NGO has also sought a stay on a Government Resolution of March 16 which grants three hectares of land to the MMRCL even as the matter remains subjudice.
The issue of Aarey’s status remains significant to preserve the greenery of the area which activists allege is at a risk of being grabbed. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited too has been seeking land at Aarey for constructing a metro rail car-shed. Stalin said though MMRCL has been claiming the land does not fall under a forest area, a Detailed Project Report part of the project proposal clearly mentions the site to be in a green forested area.
Apart from the clarification, the NGT was informed that rampant construction was being carried out which fall under the Eco Sensitive Zone. The Ministry of Environment and Forests in January had informed the NGT that it is in the final stages of approving a 4km boundary around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park which includes Aarey colony. ESZs are declared around protected areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to prevent ecological damage by developmental activities.
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