Congress leader Jairam Ramesh today asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prove that he was sincere about environment protection by stopping a Metro car shed from coming up in the forested Aarey Colony.
The former Union environment minister also said the Shiv Sena should not merely pay lip service to the Aarey cause but persuade its ally BJP to drop the plan of building car shed in the area.
Green activists are up in the arms against the BJP-led Maharashtra government's decision to build the car shed for Mumbai Metro in Aarey Colony, which will entail felling of some 2700 trees.
Addressing a press conference, Mr Ramesh said the prime minister considers himself an advocate for environment protection.
"This is an opportunity for him to act on what he speaks about environment protection," Mr Ramesh said.
"Nobody is opposing Metro which is an important element of infrastructure upgradation in the city, which is the financial capital of the country," he said.
He noted that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena was on the same page as the Congress in their opposition to car shed in Aarey Colony.
"I want to tell Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray that only making statements (opposing car shed) is not enough. They should make their ally realise its mistake," Mr Ramesh said.
He had spent 12 years in Powai, which is near Aarey Colony, the Congress leader said.
"I know how important and sensitive this place is from the viewpoint of environment. Many people are eyeing this land and the Metro car shed will open the doors to Aarey (for further construction). The project includes not just a car shed but also a station...Aarey and (the adjacent) Sanjay Gandhi National Park are the lungs of Mumbai," he said.
In the past, ornithologist Salim Ali had written to then prime minister Indira Gandhi that Aarey Colony was eco-sensitive zone and should be protected, Mr Ramesh said.
"Indira Gandhi told the then state government, headed by Vasantdada Patil, to ensure that this nature's gift to Mumbai was preserved," the Congress leader said.
In 2010, when he was environment minister, he had proposed that Aarey be declared an eco-sensitive zone, he said.
"Uddhav Thackeray should explain to his ally that the Metro project in Aarey is not good for the environment and will affect Mumbai adversely. Uddhav and Aaditya...instead of just making statements, take the next step...make your ally see reason," Mr Ramesh said.
Both Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya have expressed opposition to the plan to build car shed in Aarey Colony by felling trees.
Ramesh also said that there were two alternative sites for car shed which should be considered.