There’s a furore over certain BMC Tree Committee members and environment experts allegedly voting for the hacking of trees at Aarey. There’s a furious debate blowing both ways about whether it should be hacked or not.
There are certain arguments put forth by the Metro authorities, or by someone on their behalf, using words like “carbon offset”, “carbon footprint” and how the trees that are being cut are exotic and not really native to Mumbai.
There are some basic facts we need to accept that the MMRCL chooses to ignore.
# No citizen who is protesting against the proposed car shed is against the Metro. I myself have used the Metro often on the East-West corridor. We all want the Metro and realise its benefits and for this, we don’t need convincing on how many vehicles and trips will be reduced.
# This isn’t about blocking development. The Tree Committee often gives clearances for cutting/ trimming trees wherever urgently needed and even when there is no option for development.
# This isn’t even about the size of the land or how many trees are being cut or transplanted. Having noted that whether transplantations are even happening is a grey area, and many green areas like Colaba Woods have been destroyed permanently by these Metro planners who have had no love for the city, this issue is different. This issue is about the project on paper and its implementation without any practical changes.
# The worst argument I have come across is that there have been 10 accidental deaths in Mumbai each day on the railways, and hence the Metro is better. By this argument, the MMRCL should shut the rail lines and convert it to a metro line (in addition to doing something about its own efficiency and safety). This would save space and money.
# What we are highlighting is this: The so-called carbon offset with vehicles going off the roads
This is a noble thought. But is the Metro running entirely on clean and renewable energy? Can that guarantee be given in court? Because if we burn coal to generate electricity, run the Metro on that energy, while hoping to replace Euro-V compliant cars and buses, we are probably fooling ourselves that there is a carbon offset. This is an add-on project of transportation, though much needed to de-clog traffic, but definitely not a carbon offset.
#The amount of concrete being used in making this mega project. That is another huge source of carbon placement in the environment, which would take a long time to offset.
Most importantly, as an environmentalist myself, I petitioned and pushed the BMC to create urban forests in Mumbai through the Miyawakee method — 30,000 trees are being planted in 66 places across the city. So that way 2,700 replacements are already done.
# The point really is that this is about the green zone – a NO development zone that is SGNP & Aarey. Trees can most definitely be replaced. They can be transplanted elsewhere, but when a whole car shed is placed there, with metro trains running along with vibrations, sounds, and thousands of people bustling with activity, thriving wildlife is pushed beyond another barrier. The possible commercial exploitation to support the cost of the car shed further threatens it.
For years, the forest department has taken measures to prevent speeding in forest areas, like avoiding construction of roads. And thankfully so. Though SGNP is a forest and Aarey is not, Aarey makes Mumbai one of the few cities where leopards still roam in the wild. This activity will destroy that!
Today, it is time we take a call. The MMRCL’s stand is to not have a dialogue with Mumbaikars, and to disregard nature and the cushion it provides to humans.
We may tweet about the Amazon forest fires, replace plastic bottles with steel ones, print hoardings of 13 crores trees planted somewhere and we may indulge in major projects for conservation for what’s going extinct but if we don’t protect what exists, and wait until we need to start a movement to protect it, we as citizens would have failed.
For this reason, organisations like WWF, UNEP, BNHS must partner with Mumbaikars for the environment, especially when there is scope for alternative land for the car shed. That is sustainable development. I hope the MMRCL partners in understanding Mumbai’s need, not its own savings.
However, if the Metro/MMRCL can still get over their stubborn behaviour of refusing to have a dialogue with Mumbaikars, and convince Mumbai by showing us that they won’t push leopards, pythons, birds out from there, I would be happy.
They must also let us know that the forest ministry has been wrong in not letting existing human habitations have even basic legal water connections, and preventing human activity and that increased human, commercial and machine activity can propel carbon offset by pushing leopards out.
This isn’t about just 2,700 fully grown trees being hacked or about triple that number being planted as saplings elsewhere. This is about an ecosystem that is not just existing, but thriving, that will be destroyed within a few hours of the implementation of this proposal.
Aaditya Thackeray is the President of Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena. He tweets @authackeray