Mumbai is clearly divided over the Aarey Depot issue. On one side, there are citizens who believe that pollution in Mumbai has reached devastating levels with resultant impact on the health of the common Mumbaikar. So, we need to have a robust public transport system, the Mumbai Metro, to ease dependency on vehicular transportation. Their belief is that reduction in vehicular traffic will improve the city’s environmental conditions. On the other side, we have citizens who believe that the felling of trees at the Aarey Milk Depot site will further deteriorate the environmental conditions in Mumbai because the city needs to retain its green cover.
To be honest, both groups are logical, both love Mumbai and both are environmentally conscious. To the people of Mumbai, the toughest decision is to be able to balance the long-term environmental benefits with the short-term environmental gains.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) has felled 2,141 trees. It was granted this permission by the Tree Authority; this permission was challenged at the Bombay High Court. The court dismissed the petition and allowed MMRCL to proceed with its scheduled work on the project. The protestors leading one group of concerned citizens approached the Supreme Court, which has ordered a status quo on the cutting off trees.
I have studied the Mumbai Metro Line -3 (MML-3) project over the last several weeks and have come to understand that MML-3 will carry 17 lakh passengers every day and thereby removing 6.5 lakh vehicle trips off the road, which will, in turn, reduce 2.61 lakh tonnes of CO2 pollution every year. If the same amount of pollution is to be reduced just by planting trees, Mumbai would need more than two crore trees, for which there is no space in the city.
Mumbai is so polluted due to the large number of vehicles in the city. In my understanding, the temporary strain on the environment caused by cutting 2,141 trees at Aarey Milk Colony in terms of CO2 sequestration, will be compensated just by four days of Metro Line 3 operations. The damage envisaged over the trees’ lifetime will be compensated by 80 days operations.
The MMRCL in its communication has stated that it has adopted sustainable mitigation measures for the temporary environmental strain the project might cause. It has planted 14,346 trees with 6”x 12” girth and 12-15 feet height of native variety and also planted 9,500 trees as per the Forest Department norms under CSR. A total 23,846 trees have been planted at different locations, including the degraded areas of Borivali National Park. The trees are of native varieties like Sita Ashok, Kadamb, Arjun and Kanchan. The MMRCL reportedly intends to plant 3,000 more trees and is in discussion with the Maharashtra government to find suitable land to plant these trees.
Every day, at least 10 people die on suburban rail tracks either because of trespassing or by falling from crowded trains. About the same number of people get injured. The loss of 3,500-4,000 lives every year for the past many years has been a matter of great concern for India’s financial capital.
Many families have been devastated by the untimely death of their bread earner in such mishaps. Precious lives can be saved only if there is a substantial capacity expansion of rail-based public transport, the Metro. The entire Metro network, I understand, will have the capacity to carry more than one crore passengers by 2041. This would lead to a safer commute on suburban trains as well.
Metro Line-3 will be the most important and efficient corridor of the Mumbai Metro network. It has a huge potential to provide Mumbaikars a safer, more comfortable and reliable mode of transport.
Tree cutting may cause temporary strain to the environment but the benefits of Metro-3 in terms of reduction in pollution, reduction in traffic congestion and saving of lives substantially outweigh this environmental strain.
As a former resident of Mumbai, and someone who travels to Mumbai quite often on work, I am clear that Mumbai needs a robust transport system such as the Metro. I am emotional about the issue, every Mumbaikar would be. But being emotional cannot make us blind to the truth about the dual need of the MML-3: To save the environment and save lives.
Shifting the Metro Aarey Depot is not only illogical at this point of time but also financially unviable. It will also not meet the deadline of the Metro’s commencement of operations. The MML-3 project is registered with the United Nations Framework for Climate Change under the Clean Development Mechanism. That gives me confidence that MML-3 project will walk the path of environmental sensitivities and sustainable development.
I appeal to all Mumbaikars. Let’s come together to make Mumbai greener with a robust and ecological sound transport system project.
The writer is Founder & Editor-in-Chief, GoaChronicle.com and IndianExpose.com. He is also a social entrepreneur and an environmental rights activist