Uddhav Thackeray moves to save Aarey: Battle won, war remains
Maharashtra's Chief Minister's first major decision after assuming office is a bold move and welcomed by environmentalists. However, it is only the first step.
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After he took oath as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, one of the first things Uddhav Thackeray did on Friday (November 29) was to stop all work on Metro-3 car shed pending a review at Aarey Colony. Furthermore, he announced on Sunday (December 1) that he ordered to withdraw all cases filed against environmentalists during the agitations against the construction.
I had given orders to stop the metro car shed work in Aarey. When the trees were cut in the middle of the night, Mumbaikars agitated against the decision. They were detained & charged. I have given orders to take back all the charges filed against them.-@CMOMaharashtra #Aarey pic.twitter.com/OtNcemeDcN— Office of Uddhav Thackeray (@OfficeofUT) December 1, 2019
"I have ordered to stop the work of Aarey metro car shed project today. Metro work will not stop but till next decision, not a single leaf of Aarey will be cut," Thackeray had reportedly said during a press conference. "I have ordered to take back the cases filed against many environmentalists during the agitation against Aarey metro car shed work. There will be no more cases against anyone now," Chief Minister Thackeray added.
His predecessor wasn't too happy. Former CM Devendra Fadnavis was quick to slam the decision, saying the state government was not serious about the infrastructure projects in the state.
It’s unfortunate that State Government stayed Aarey Metro CarShed work in spite of Hon Supreme Court & Hon High Court orders.This shows State Government is not serious about Mumbai Infrastructure projects! And ultimate sufferer is common Mumbaikar only !#SaveMetroSaveMumbai— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) November 29, 2019
Japan’s JICA had funded ₹15,000crore for this Metro project on nominal interest rates.Such decisions will demotivate investors to come forward in future and all infra projects will get stalled which were already delayed for so long in previous 15 year rule#SaveMetroSaveMumbai— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) November 29, 2019
However, it is a huge turning point in the movement to save the Aarey. The decision has been hailed by environmental activists and citizens, who have welcomed the move and emotionally expressed their gratitude.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray: I have ordered to take back the cases filed against many environmentalist, during the agitation against Aarey metro car shed. Thank you @OfficeofUT #SaveAareyForest pic.twitter.com/IzHMvGhDC6— AareyConservationGrp #VoteForAarey (@ConserveAarey) December 1, 2019
@OfficeofUT We Citizens would like to Thank our Honourable CM for taking a quick step to quash the charges against the 29 Green Warriors. Maharashtra Goernment Respect Mother Nature .This step we hope will set an example for the other States to follow.#SaveAareyForest— Amrita Bhattacharjee (@amrita_02) December 1, 2019
What started as a small group of residents and environmentalists protesting against the proposed Metro car shed has become a movement that brought Mumbaikars from all walks of life together to protect the “lungs of Mumbai”.
The movement gathered massive momentum when the Maharashtra government under former CM Devendra Fadnavis had felled hundreds of trees within 24 hours of the Bombay High Court rejecting the citizen’s plea to stay the cutting of trees. This was on October 4, 2019. Barely hours after the court gave its nod, trees were cut at night. The move by the government further fuelled the outrage and brought Mumbaikars out on the streets in what could be described as the biggest citizens’ movement that Mumbai has seen in a very long time. The police had arrested 29 protesters on October 5, who were later released on bail.
The plea reached the Supreme Court on October 7, and the apex court passed an order by which it had stayed the further cutting of trees in Aarey Colony. It heard the matter again in November and extended the interim order. It also sought a status report with pictures on plantation, transplantation and felling of trees in the area.
Thackeray’s decision to stall work on the metro car shed comes as a fresh lease of life to the thousands of trees in Aarey that were to face the axe.
However, this cannot be a ‘one step forward, ten steps backwards’ move.
While there is no denying that the city needs the Metro, the contention by the environmentalists is that car shed planned in Aarey can be shifted elsewhere. The activists and the citizens have repeatedly said that they are more than willing to work with the government to identify land for the Metro car shed that will not involve cutting of thousands of trees. It is time Thackeray government took up that offer and involved the citizens — the primary stakeholders — to shift the project elsewhere.
Who is objecting to the metro? This is a lie being propagated again and again. The protests are against building a stupid car shed in #Aarey which is forest land by cutting down thousands of trees. Put up the car shed somewhere else, that is what everyone is saying.— Pritish Nandy (@PritishNandy) November 28, 2019
According to activist and Save Aarey petitioner Zoru Bhathena, while the state has claimed before the Supreme Court that it had already cut over 2,141 trees (which is more than 98% of the trees sanctioned to make way for the car shed), in reality barely 500 trees have been cut so far.
The Metro car shed might just be a smokescreen. Considering the skyrocketing real-estate prices in Mumbai (among the highest in the world), the Metro work could just be a ploy to open up the forest land for real estate development. The Thackeray government has a big responsibility to ensure that this is checked.
Uddhav Thackeray's first order as the Chief Minister to save the forest is just a battle won. The war for Aarey is still on.