Throwing his weight behind activists protesting against the chopping of trees in Mumbai's Aarey Colony, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday 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 tweeted on Saturday, terming it as an "important issue" that he won't hesitate to address.
As many as 29 activists have been arrested for trying to prevent the trees from being cut since Friday, when the Bombay High Court declared that the area was not a forest. The initiative, aimed at creating space for the construction of a Mumbai Metro train shed, is being opposed by environmentalists as well as local residents. Prohibitory orders have been imposed on the area, and until reports last came in, over 1,000 trees had been brought down.
Aaditya Thackeray, Sena youth leader and Uddhav's son, also voiced his opposition to the move and criticised the administration for arresting protesters at the site. "Detaining citizens and arresting youth for standing with environment. So much for speaking about environment at the global level while we destroy ecosystems here in the middle of the night," he tweeted, posting a video of party leader Priyanka Chaturvedi being taken away by the police.
In another post, he called upon the Devendra Fadnavis government to reconsider the decision. "A project that should be executed with pride - the Metro 3 - has to do it in the cover of the night, with shame, slyness and heavy cop cover. The project that's supposed to provide Mumbai with clean air is hacking down a forest that is home to leopards, rusty spotted cats and more," he tweeted.
However, the BJP - Shiv Sena's coalition partner in Maharashtra - justified the move by saying that such sacrifices are essential for development. "We don't wish to cut even a single tree in Aarey, but development is also important. We will plant more trees to replace those cut down," Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, adding that he will speak to Aaditya Thackeray in this regard.
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also spoke in favour of clearing the green cover, maintaining that development and environment protection should go hand in hand. "Basically, the Bombay High Court has ruled that Aarey is not a forest. You can't cut anything that is classified as a forest," he said.
(With inputs from ANI)