Mumbai Metro: Why Activists Are Wrong About Aarey Colony

by Gampa Saidatta - Sep 9, 2019 09:44 PM +05:30 IST
Mumbai Metro: Why Activists Are Wrong About Aarey Colony‘Save Aarey’ protests (Facebook) 
  • The more Metro Line - 3 gets delayed due to ‘Save Aarey’ protests, the more is the loss to the common Mumbaikar.

Mumbai is abuzz with metro line construction activity everywhere with nearly 250+ kms of metro lines being built or commissioned in six lines and three more given approval.

One proposed car shed (depot) for the Metro Line 3, however, has been much talked about. This is because the construction of it would entail felling of trees in an area known as Aarey colony. This is where the car shed for Line 3 is proposed to come up.

Among all the lines, the Line 3 is significant as it is the only and first underground metro line of Mumbai.

It is a 33.5-km-long corridor envisaged to decongest traffic in Greater Mumbai by connecting important business districts, the airport and many educational institutions.

This line alone, costing nearly Rs 30,000 crores, will help save approximately 2.5 lakh litres of fuel per day i.e. about Rs 550 crore per year. The reduction in fossil fuel consumption will lead to a reduction of emissions by an incredible 6,800 tonnes per annum. It will help remove 456,771 vehicles from the roads of Mumbai.

So far so good.

The problem now is that activists are up in arms against the government’s plans to build the depot at Aarey Colony.

Authorities zeroed in on Aarey Colony due to less costs compared to other options, and other considerations such as the availability of land for future expansion etc. The colony was established in 1951 to help with the processing and marketing of daily products in the city.

Out of 3,166 acres that Aarey Milk Colony occupies, the Maharashtra government handed over 30 hectares (74 acres) for the depot. Of this only 25 hectares will be used for the depot buildings. This is about 2 per cent of the entire area of Aarey Milk Colony.

A timeline of the controversy

Some sections of the Mumbai middle class were opposed to the felling of trees for the metro car shed. They moved a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court against the proposed cutting of 2,298 trees for the shed. They simultaneously launched awareness drives and signature campaigns.

Subsequently, many NGOs joined them. Means of protest such as street plays and human chains were employed.

In 2015, Aam Aadmi Party extended its support to this movement. Later, the Shiv Sena and the MNS also came out in support of the protests.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered status quo at the site. However, the Bombay High Court dismissed the PIL and removed the stay order on the project.

Finally, this August, the Tree Commission gave its nod to the felling of trees for the depot.

Facts and fiction

Many Mumbaikars who are asking for saving Aarey are unaware about facts. Most of them are equating a small patch of less than two per cent of Aarey Colony with the whole of the adjacent Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

The website of a group which is spearheading the ‘Save Aarey’ protests claims Aarey as the last green patch of Mumbai and that the city will be starved of oxygen were it not for Aarey.

But the fact is Mumbai as a city on the western coast of India is endowed with abundant greenery to produce oxygen and daily breeze to clean up the pollution released by human activity.

The lush green pristine forest of Sanjay Gandhi National Park spread over 87 square kilometers i.e 21,500 acres borders Aarey colony and it is well within Mumbai city limits.

Another claim of the activists is that Aarey acts as a buffer for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and prevents unpleasant interactions between man and wildlife. Even if this is true, the fact is that the Metro car shed site is not within this buffer limit. Thus, opposing the car shed on this reason proves to be is futile.

Another popular argument of these groups is that Aarey is a wonderful place for children and youth to be introduced to the joys of nature. So it is clear that for these activists, Aarey is just a picnic spot to spend their weekends.

What must worry us all is the misinformation being spread in the name of saving Aarey.

The ‘Save Aarey’ activists have suggested constructing an underground depot, but that will be six times costlier and will take three times more time to construct compared to an on-grade depot.

Moreover, even an underground option cannot guarantee retention of trees. Another option being suggested is the Kanjurmarg land. But it is far from the alignment and under litigation in court, and thus may take years just for its acquisition.

Adverse Effects

In the controversy surrounding the metro car shed, the loser would be the common man of Mumbai who can't afford to travel by car and will be compelled to travel in uncomfortable suburban trains, because the Metro Line 3, which will cater to 16 lakh commuters daily after its inception, cannot start its operation without a car shed.

One must also realise that the delay in Metro Line 3 would release 6,800 tonnes of carbon annually into Mumbai’s atmosphere from the vehicles that occupy the city's roads due to non completion of Metro Line 3.

On the other hand, felling of 2,200 trees for the metro car shed will lead to emission of 50,000 kg (50 tonnes) of carbon annually.

What is the priority for combating climate change: offsetting 6,800 or 50 tonnes of carbon?

The increase in project costs due to delays is another point of concern. Already Metro Line 3’s total project cost has increased by Rs 7,000 crore to a total of Rs 30,000 crore.

The ‘activists’ of urban India must raise their voice for the unheard. Misusing their energies and enthusiasm for misplaced environmental causes will be counterproductive.

Gampa Saidatta is a student at the Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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