Tribal communities living inside forest land in Mumbai's Aarey, where at least a thousand trees have been razed and many more are still to be cut to make way for a car shed for the Mumbai Metro, have appealed for support in the fight to save their homes and the environment. "My wife has been arrested. She has planted 100s of trees in the area. Is planting trees and saving them an offence?" Prakash Bhoir, a resident of one of the villages, asked NDTV.
The Aarey Colony, one of the city's greenest neighbourhoods, is home to five lakh trees, 27 tribal villages and various animal and bird species. On Friday, the Bombay High Court cancelled four petitions seeking to stop the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) from cutting down nearly 3,000 trees in the colony to build a car shed and offices for Metro Line 3.
The process to raze the trees began mere hours later, leading to protests from activists who took to the streets in an attempt to stop the cutting. Several were detained with police cases being filed against 38 people and 29 others being arrested.
On Saturday morning, Mumbai Police also banned any gathering of four or more people. The move has affected local tribal communities, who are now being subject to security checks every time they leave and return home,
"We are asked to show our identity cards to enter our own houses," says Shyam Boir, adding, "We are in a complete lockdown state".
Political parties, including the Shiv Sena have backed the protests against the felling of trees in Aarey.
Uddhav Thackeray, who heads the Shiv Sena, even promised to take action against those responsible if voted to power in the upcoming Maharashtra elections.
"The upcoming government will be our government, and once we come to power once again, we will deal with the murderers of Aarey forest in the best possible manner," Mr Thackeray said.
Congress leader Milind Deora called the tree cutting "stabbing yourself in the lungs".
The issue has also sparked twitter campaigns and online 'petitions' such as #ArreyChipko #SaveAarey. Several Bollywood stars have also echoed concerns about the loss of green cover and urged people to come together and save the planet.