Within hours of assuming power on Thursday (June 30), Maharashtra’s new government decided to reverse the decision of the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray to move the Metro-3 car shed from Aarey to the 102-acre salt pan land in Kanjurmarg.
The new government led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis has directed the State Urban Development Department to place before the Cabinet a proposal for a car shed at Aarey.
On Friday (July 1), Thackeray told a press conference at Shiv Sena Bhavan that he was “deeply saddened” by the overturning of the decision, and said that the Shinde government “should not play with Mumbai’s environment”.
The government should not make a decision that would heap suffering on Mumbaikars in future, he said. “Don’t take out your anger against me on the people of Mumbai,” he said.
What is the tussle over the location of the car shed?
The dispute over the construction of a Metro car shed at Aarey has been ongoing since 2014. The move to shift the car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg was a major bone of contention between the Shiv Sena and its former ally, the BJP.
The BJP-led Maharashtra government, under then Chief Minister Fadnavis, had planned to build a car shed for the ambitious 33.5 km underground Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro project at Aarey Milk Colony, an 1,800-acre urban forest in suburban Goregaon surrounded by concrete structures, which is home to over 300 species of flora and fauna.
The Sena, which was a partner in Fadnavis’s government, had opposed the move, with Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray in the lead.
What happened in court on the Aarey Metro car shed issue?
Petitioners including environmental activists and local people of Aarey had challenged the decision of the BMC Tree Authority to allow the cutting of trees in Aarey for the project. The petitioners also asked that Aarey should be declared a flood plain and a forest.
On October 4, 2019, a Bombay High Court Bench led by then Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog dismissed the pleas challenging the civic body’s decision. Within 24 hours, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), which is executing the project, fell over 2,000 trees in the area.
The following day, the petitioners urgently moved a special Bench of the High Court led by Justice S C Dharmadhikari, since Chief Justice Nandrajog was not available for judicial work on Saturday.
But the special Bench declined to stay the felling of trees, observing there was “nothing on record to show that any request was made to stay the operation, implementation, and enforcement of the judgment and order, nor any specific restraint was sought (immediately after it was pronounced the previous day)”.
The Bench said it could not “proceed on any oral understanding”, and it “would not be proper to grant a stay” merely because another Bench had been constituted.
Two days later, however, the Supreme Court restrained authorities from felling more trees and ordered status quo in Aarey — even as the Maharashtra government told the court that trees that had to be cut, had already been cut.
The MMRCL subsequently said in a statement that 2,141 trees had been felled.
How did the protests against the cutting of trees progress?
The civic body’s nod to the cutting of the trees, and the overnight felling following the High Court’s order, provoked activists, Bollywood actors, and Aarey locals to come out in the streets under the banner of the ‘Save Aarey’ campaign.
Fadnavis’s government invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which is the power to issue orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. Aarey is home to about 10,000 people who live in 27 tribal hamlets. About 500 police personnel were deployed, and 29 protesters were arrested — who were, however, released on bail following directions of the Supreme Court.
What happened after the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA assumed power in November 2019?
Ahead of the October 2019 state Assembly elections, Aaditya Thackery had spearheaded the protests against Fadnavis’s decision to allow the overnight cutting of over 2,000 trees at the Aarey site, and had promised the relocation of the car shed from the area.
A day after taking over the reins of the state, Uddhav Thackeray on November 29, 2019, overturned Fadnavis’s decision to build the shed at Aarey. He scrapped the ongoing project at Aarey and said the shed would come up on the salt pan land at Kanjurmarg instead. Moreover, nearly 800-acre of land in Aarey was declared as a reserve forest.
In October 2020, the state government, through the Mumbai suburban district collector, ordered the transfer of the 102-acre plot of Kanjurmarg salt pan land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
The MMRDA then transferred the land to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited (DMRCL), which was to build the car shed and an interchange station for the proposed Metro corridors.
What position did the Centre take in the tussle over the Metro-3 car shed?
On December 16, 2020, in a setback to the Thackeray-led state government, the HC, while hearing the central government’s plea through its salt commissioner laying claim to the land, stayed the order of the collector. The stay was extended from time to time.
Interestingly, a few days after the Bombay HC order, Eknath Shinde, who was then Maharashtra’s Urban Development Minister, said that the MVA-led state government’s decision to scrap the Aarey car shed project and relocate it to Kanjurmarg was in the larger public interest.
Shinde alleged that the opposition BJP was indulging in politics at the cost of the interest of the public, and described the Centre’s stance over the ownership of the Kanjurmarg land as “unfortunate”.
Various parties, including the Centre, the state and private entities, did stake claim on the Kanjurmarg land.
The MMRDA last year filed an application seeking to vacate or modify the interim stay, stating that since it is a “public project of urgency” and the work has already commenced, it is ready to give an undertaking that it will give all benefits and compensation to which the owner and/ or lessee would be entitled on acquisition of the said land as per law.
The High Court had appealed to the Centre, state and other parties to resolve the disputes between themselves to reach an amicable solution in view of public interest.
Earlier this year, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) had written to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to reconsider the decision to shift the project to Kanjurmarg, citing reports prepared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).
The letter, dated March 17 and written by an under secretary of MoHUA, stated that the DMRC, which is assisting the MMRCL in the Metro line 3, has cited a long-term operational and maintenance difficulties in the line if the car shed is shifted to Kanjurmarg from Aarey.
The central government lawyer informed the High Court about the MoHUA letter, asking that the decision to shift the project to Kanjurmarg be reconsidered.
Meanwhile, on June 15, the Bombay High Court allowed a plea by the Maharashtra government, which said that the private firm Adarsh Water Parks and Resorts Private Limited had fraudulently obtained a consent order in October 2020 claiming development rights over 6,000 acres of land in Kanjurmarg, including the 102 acres for the Metro car shed.
The central government and BMC too had opposed the private firm’s claim on the land.
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What has the Shinde-Fadnavis government said on the matter?
Fadnavis on Thursday said that Metro-3 was stuck because of a legal wrangle over the Kanjurmarg plot, where the previous MVA government had proposed to build the car shed.
Fadnavis has asked officials whether the courts could be apprised through the Advocate General of the state that the car shed could be built at Aarey itself. CM Shinde seconded the move.
The government is likely to inform the High Court during the next hearing this month that it does not want the land for the car shed in Kanjurmarg, and has instead decided to construct it in Aarey. Thereafter, only the private suit over the Kanjurmarg land may continue, possibly ending the Centre v state conflict for metro car-shed in the High Court.