Dozens of protesters gathered at Aarey forest on Tuesday morning to protest the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) decision to chop over 2,700 trees to make way for an access road to a Metro car shed in the area.
Members of the Save Aarey campaign and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) exhorted people to file objections before the BMC’s Tree Authority.
The AAP also announced that Wednesday was the last day to file objections.
Amrita Bhattacharjee, a member of the Save Aarey campaign, said the protesters would gather at the Tree Authority’s office at Byculla zoo with copies of their letters on October 10 to put pressure on the BMC. Members of the collective ‘Let Mumbai Breathe’ also said that in the space of two days, more than 4,000 people had registered their objections on its website to the MMRCL’s proposal to cut the trees.
Bhattacharjee, who is an HR professional and one of the organisers of the protest, said, “I don’t understand how the MMRCL can decide to cut the trees to build a road when it does not even have permission yet to construct the car shed. This jungle is integral to the city. No one owns it. Today we are here to save these trees,” she said.
Among other speakers in the 50-odd crowd of protesters were tribal couple and Prajapur Pada residents Asha and Kisan Bhoye, who petitioned the Bombay High Court earlier this year, claiming that the MMRCL had illegally taken possession of their farmland.
Asha claimed that the MMRCL took over her land without her permission and cut 250 trees. “They claimed we are slum dwellers and said they would relocate us in an SRA building a few kilometres away. But we are tribals and have been living here for many years. We have the documents to prove it,” she said. She added that her farmland has been encroached upon in such a way that a very narrow passage has been left for her to enter her own home. “Every time I need to get into my home, I have to request them (MMRCL) to give way,” she claimed.
Another local resident, Ravindra Dodiye, who works for the rights of tribal families in Aarey, said that he isn’t against development. “The government accuses us of being against development. We are not against the Metro coming up here. We just do not want the car shed to be built here at the cost of the forest being destroyed. It is up to us indigenous residents to raise our voices,” he said.
Fellow tribal resident Prakash Bhoir said that it was imperative for more citizens to become involved in the fight to save Aarey.
“Whether you live on the streets or in an apartment, you need the forest. If we sit quiet and do nothing, then we will have no right to claim clean air to breathe,” he said.