With the protests against a proposal to fell and transplant 2,646 trees in Aarey Colony to make way for the Metro 3 car shed gathering momentum and resonating across Mumbai, most political parties, sensing its importance in the upcoming state election, have declared their support to “saving the environment”.
Except the BJP, which has maintained that the car depot in Aarey Colony would be in the interest of the city, its ally Shiv Sena, opposition parties Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Samajwadi Party, have all gatecrashed the ‘Save Aarey’ movement. The citizen-driven campaign gathered steam in August after a proposal of removing 2,646 trees for the proposed car depot of Metro 3 line (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) was passed in a Tree Authority meeting.
With a fifth successive human chain and silent protest outside the proposed car depot in Aarey last Sunday, the growing support for Aarey has apparently also pushed political parties to back the movement.
Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray, the first to back the ‘Save Aarey’ campaign, urged the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRCL) to move the proposed car depot out of the Aarey Milk Colony. Last month, Aaditya had even sought the transfer of MMRCL Managing Director Ashwini Bhide for not considering alternative locations for the car depot.
The Shiv Sena, which shares power in state with the BJP, has also filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court along with activists, against the Tree Authority’s decision to clear the proposal. Local Sena MP Gajanan Kirtikar also took part in human chain protest against the move to remove trees.
“There is a huge number of citizens involved in the campaign of saving trees in Aarey. The party’s stand would help our candidates in elections,” a Sena leader in the BMC said.
City Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam also joined a protest at Aarey Colony along with citizens. Earlier, former Union environment minister and Congress MP Jairam Ramesh had extended support to the campaign and even visited Aarey Colony last month.
On August 29, the proposal of tree cutting was passed by a vote. Eight votes (four BJP corporators, three experts and one NCP corporator) were in support of felling the trees, while six votes (all from Shiv Sena) were against the move. Two Congress corporators had walked out of meeting before voting began.
Following strong criticism from citizens for walking out, and fearing repercussions in the Assembly election, both the Congress corporators, who had walked out, changed their stand and submitted an affidavit stating that the proposal was passed in a hurry.
Meanwhile, after NCP corporator Kaptan Malik’s vote in favour of the proposal, party MP Supriya Sule appeared to be doing a damage control. Sule visited Aarey recently to show her party’s support to the ‘Save Aarey’ campaign.
Residents and environmentalists are demanding that the car shed be shifted and the trees, slated to be felled to make way for it, be protected instead. They fear that the car depot will destroy biodiversity and pave the way for further development and land exploitation in Aarey.
Activists of ‘Save Aarey’ campaign have always maintained that everybody, irrespective of political affiliation, was welcome to support the campaign. “ Aarey issue is an opportunity for non-BJP parties since huge number of people have turned up for saving trees,” Yash Marwah of ‘Let India Breathe’ said.
“Globally, anyone who is more aware about climate change, is seen as a good leader. Political leaders see this as an opportunity to show they are doing something for environment. However, this is good since it shows a sign of change and means there is political awareness. We expect the same thing from them once they come to power,” he said.