There's been a lot of anger from citizens like me on the hacking of the trees at Aarey.
Whether Aarey is legally a forest or not is a matter of technicality and the government's whims.
What is not a matter of debate, however, is that Aarey must be a forest. It's not just 2,700 trees, it's an ecosystem that is thriving with many species of flora and fauna, including a leopard with her cubs, the endangered rusty spotted cat and much more.
What is also not a matter of debate is that everyone opposing the metro car shed in Aarey wants the Metro 3.
Everyone wants development, but not destructive development; we want sustainable development.
What is crucial here, and why I write this blog, is to clear the air over "Aarey Kon Re" (loosely translated to "who is it") doing this exercise of hacking down Aarey's trees.
The Shiv Sena being the only party to not have changed its stance on the issue of supporting Aarey as a forest, I found it weird that it was targeted by a couple of political parties through troll armies online.
What they are essentially doing is shielding the main culprits of this mindless land grab by diverting attention and attacking the Sena on grounds that I will tackle below, point by point.
Allegation 1: "The BMC is controlled by the Shiv Sena and hence Shiv Sena is cutting the trees."
Answer: Wrong. The Shiv Sena is the only party that opposed this outright. The party rejected a change of use proposal in the Development Plan 2034 and then in the Improvement Committee too.
The state government drove the change of land use into the DP 2034 when the decision was with the Urban Development ministry (Not with the Shiv Sena).
So it isn't the BMC that is cutting the trees, it's the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited or MMRC.
Allegation 2: "Sena is protesting but the state environment ministry is with the Sena."
Answer: Yes, but unfortunately, not a single "Metro" permission falls under the purview of the state environment ministry. It all goes to the Central Ministry of Environment.
Allegation 3: "The BMC is responsible for deforestation in Aarey, especially after the 'Tree Committee' approved of it. How did that happen if the Shiv Sena controls the BMC?"
Answer: For three years, the Shiv Sena rejected these proposals with a majority of its 6 members. On this particular vote, hurriedly taken without much debate, only Shiv Sena's six members voted against the proposal. The NCP's lone member voted to support the proposal to cut trees, with three of the five "experts" and four BJP members. The Congress's two members walked out, clearing the path for the proposal to be accepted eight to six. Until the five "experts" were appointed and the NCP voted in favour of hacking the trees, the "yes to cut" group were in a minority. Basically, the 'Tree Committee', headed by the Municipal Commissioner and not a Shiv Sena appointee, approved the cutting of trees after a vote in which the Shiv Sena opposed the motion but was outnumbered. It is the only committee with a bureaucratic head and five external non-elected experts in the BMC. It is still the MMRCL cutting trees as it wishes, as it has always been, even though the approval came from the vote in the 'Tree Committee'.
Q: "So what did the BMC exactly do?"
A: The Tree Committee with the five "experts" appointed by a court order ganged up with the others to allow deforestation, while only the Shiv Sena voted against it. That is why and how the BMC is involved.
Q: "What did the Shiv Sena do to stop it despite being in the Government?"
A: Rejected it in Development Plan Department 2034 in BMC in 2017
Rejected it in the Improvement Committee. Rejected it in the 'Tree Committee' until it fell short of numbers. Spoke against it in Parliament and the Assembly.
Protested time and again, even in the latest incident after which leaders like Sheetal Mhatre, Shubha Raul and Priyanka Chaturvedi were detained by the police. More importantly, nowhere did the Sena protest with a political agenda or flags or caps, unlike other parties. Raised it with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis a couple of times
Q: "Is the Shiv Sena against development?"
A: No, we want the Metro. But the car shed in Aarey is stretched almost a kilometre ahead of its last stop, for reasons unknown.
Q: "Are there alternatives?"
A: Of course there are. A study committee report mentions Aarey as the last option, and warns of permanent damage to the ecosystem and floods in Mumbai. Land is available at Back Bay Depot, Oshiwara Depot or even the Kanjur. Metro 6 is getting its car shed on the same Kanjur plot, "But thrice the number of trees are planted". This is always doubtful as a successful tree plantation or even transplant takes seven years. More so, this isn't about only trees, it's about the ecosystem. One can't transplant ecosystem. With my proposal being passed, the BMC is currently planting 300,000 trees on 66 plots as urban forests in Mumbai. But what exists mustn't be damaged.
"Carbon offset and clean transport"
Having pushed electric mobility since 2014, I am a big fan of it. However, when we run any of it like buses (using small amounts of electricity) or the Metro (using larger amounts and same source) by burning coal at some distance, somewhere in the country, we still aren't offsetting carbon. More so, nobody is calculating the carbon released into the atmosphere with so much cement being poured into our city, along with the hacking down of an ecosystem.
The BEST bus fares going down has resulted in an increase of 1 million passengers within its first month of fare reduction. This is the strength of public transport and sensible use of money, we believe in.
So who exactly is cutting our forest down?
The MMRCL, which is executing the Metro 3, a state-run outfit earlier entangled in the Parsi Fire Temple issue (that hasn't reached a satisfactory conclusion for everyone involved as yet), the Girgaon Rehabilitation and then the Aarey.
The reason for its stubbornness is not known, also its keen desire to hack the environment, even at the cost of lying to the people (e.g. the Kanjur Plot was under litigation - in court, the contrary came to light).
Aaditya Thackeray is the President of Yuva Sena. He's the grandson of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and the first Thackeray to contest elections.
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