Two days after putting the brakes on the construction of a Metro car shed project in Mumbai's Aarey Colony, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray today announced that cases filed against green activists who protested against the chopping of trees to make room for the controversial structure will also be withdrawn.
"I have ordered that the cases filed against green activists during the Aarey agitation be withdrawn. There will be no more cases against anyone now," Mr Thackeray, a vocal supporter of the campaign to save Mumbai's lung space, said.
The Mumbai police had filed cases against several protesters under various sections of the Indian Penal Code in October, when they tried to prevent the authorities from chopping 2,500 trees in Aarey Colony. The Supreme Court ordered a freeze on the deforestation activity in the days that followed, but over 2,000 trees had already been cut down by then.
Staying the construction of the controversial Metro car shed was one of the first policy decisions adopted by Mr Thackeray after he was anointed as the Chief Minister in a glittering ceremony at Shivaji Park on Thursday. "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," he had said at a press meet, clarifying that the move should not be seen as "anti-development".
Mr Thackeray claimed that he was grieved by newspaper reports that trees were cut overnight in Aarey Colony. "I cannot accept this. I am Maharashtra's first Mumbai-born Chief Minister, and I will do whatever is needed for it," he said.
Even when the Shiv Sena was part of the previous Devendra Fadnavis government, Mr Thackeray and his son -- Sena youth leader Aaditya -- did not hesitate to express their opposition to the chopping of trees at Aarey Colony. Back then, he had even vowed to "deal with murderers of Aarey forest" if voted back to power.
The Metro car shed project was 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. As many as 27 tribal villages also fall within the perimeter of the green belt.