- Uddhav Thackeray said car shed would be shifted to Kanjurmag
- The proposed car shed in Aarey had led to a bitter row last year
- Aarey forest is home to around five lakh trees
Around 800 acres of land in Mumbai's Aarey have been declared a reserve forest, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said Sunday, adding that the construction of the controversial car shed for a Metrorail project in the area would be shifted to Kanjurmag. There will be no escalation in costs, he further said, noting that the government already owned land in the area.
The proposed car shed in Aarey had led to a bitter row in September and October last year between environmental activists and the then BJP-ruled Maharashtra government, which wanted to cut down 2,700 trees to build the shed.
"This uncertainty over the car shed is over now. Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be to protected. There is an 800-acre jungle in an urban set-up... Mumbai has natural forest cover," he said, adding that the building already constructed in Aarey would be used for some other public purpose.
The Chief Minister also directed the withdrawal of all police cases filed against Aarey protesters - a move that was announced in December last year as well. The cases relate to those filed against people who tried to stop the authorities from cutting down the trees.
Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who campaigned to save the trees, last month said the protesters had fought for the future of the planet and that the rights of Adivasi communities that call Aarey home would be protected.
Today, after the reserve forest announcement was made, Aaditya Thackeray tweeted: "Aarey saved!".
Aarey Saved!— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) October 11, 2020
A huge controversy broke out last year over the then Maharashtra government's decision to cut down trees in Aarey - a vast swathe of green with around five lakh trees and home to a wide variety of animals and birds - to build a car shed for the Metrorail project.
In October the Bombay High Court refused to declare Aarey a forest or quash the Mumbai municipal corporation's decision to allow felling of trees. Hours later, under the cover of night, bulldozers rolled into Aarey and trees were cut amid a dramatic stand-off with protesters.
In a series of tweets at that time Aaditya Thackeray termed the cutting of the trees as a "shameful and disgusting" act which was carried out "in cover of night". Activists, including a group of law students, wrote to then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asking the Supreme Court to intervene.
The top court ordered a temporary stay - that was extended in December - but the Maharashtra government said it had already cut down the trees it needed to. The court then clarified that it would not stay construction of the car shed - on land that had already been cleared.
In November, however, the BJP was ousted from power in Maharashtra despite winning the October election. The Shiv Sena, which fell out with its long-time ally after the election, joined with the NCP and Congress to form a government and Uddhav Thackeray became chief minister.
Mr Thackeray ordered a stay on construction of the car shed (on cleared land) in one of his first decisions as chief minister.
The Aarey protests became a bone of contention between the BJP and Shiv Sena (which was in power in the state as an ally of the BJP), with neither Uddhav Thackeray nor Aaditya Thackeray shying away from expressing their opposition to Aarey trees being cut.