Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a stay on the construction of a controversial Metro car shed project in Mumbai's Aarey Colony on Friday, in one of his first policy decisions after assuming power in the politically crucial state the previous day.
"Metro work will not stop but till my next decision, not a single leaf of Aarey will be cut. We have issued a stay order on the Metro car shed, and a full review will be conducted in this regard," Mr Thackeray said at a press conference.
The decision to review the project has come as a major relief for green activists, who had taken up largescale protests against the cutting of trees before the assembly elections last month. Over 2,000 trees in the area - celebrated as Mumbai's lung space - were eventually cut before the Supreme Court ordered a freeze on deforestation activity. "I read in the papers that they cut trees overnight (in Aarey Colony), and I cannot accept this. I am the first Chief Minister born in Mumbai, and I will do whatever is needed for it," the Chief Minister said.
He, however, clarified that the move should not be seen as anti-development.
Incidentally, both Uddhav Thackeray and son - Sena youth leader Aaditya - were vocal in their opposition to the chopping of trees last month. Back then, he had even vowed to bring "deal with murderers of Aarey forest" if voted back to power.
Mr Thackeray's predecessor Devendra Fadnavis said the decision shows the new government is not serious about Mumbai's infrastructure projects. "It's unfortunate that State Government stayed Aarey Metro CarShed work in spite of Hon Supreme Court & Hon High Court orders. This shows State Government is not serious about Mumbai Infrastructure projects! And ultimate sufferer is common Mumbaikar only!" he tweeted.
Japan's JICA had funded ₹15,000crore for this Metro project on nominal interest rates.— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) November 29, 2019
Such decisions will demotivate investors to come forward in future and all infra projects will get stalled which were already delayed for so long in previous 15 year rule#SaveMetroSaveMumbai
However, NCP MP Supriya Sule backed Uddhav Thackeray's move, saying that the environment should not be sacrificed on the altar of development. "Congratulations to Uddhavji Thackeray (@OfficeofUT) and his council of ministers for staying the metro car shed work at Aarey Colony. We will cooperate on the issues of development, but causing damage to environment for development is wrong. Let's all come together for development that complements environment," she tweeted.
The car shed project has plagued by controversy ever since it was announced two years ago. Environmentalists want Aarey Colony - a green belt having more than five lakh trees and accommodating a wide variety of birds and animals - declared as a forest area. The green belt also has 27 tribal villages.
On October 4, the Bombay High Court cancelled four petitions seeking to declare the area as a forest. The tree felling began within hours, sparking protests from environmental activists that ended with Mumbai Police arresting as many as 29 people.