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600 Acres Of Aarey Declared ‘Reserved Forest’

Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena government soon to declare a 600 acre chunk of the suburb as ‘reserved forest’. The decision came as a win for Mumbaikars fighting to save the green patch.

A farmer working at Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai, India.
File Photo of Aarey Milk Colony (Source: Pinterest)

The Aarey Milk Colony in the Goregaon area of Mumbai is a revolutionary piece of land envisioned and developed over 60 years to revolutionize the processing and marketing of Milk in Mumbai. On Wednesday, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray announced in a tweet that the government is planning to announce 600 acres of the area as reserved forest within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This he said, would be the first instance of an extensive forest blooming within the limits of a metropolis anywhere in the world. The decision was taken days after State Government departments were instructed by the CM to look for an alternative to Line-3 Metro car shed in Aarey. The alternatives included Pahadi Goregaon and Kanjurmarg areas.

Known as the city’s green lungs, the colony had been mired in controversy last year when the Metro project in Mumbai demanded a car shed be created on Aarey land requiring the clearance of 2700 trees from the area. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation at the time said that Aarey Colony was not a forest and that more trees would be planted as replacements. The matter led to protests and demonstrations by angry Mumbaikars resulting in vain when the decision to clear the land was stayed. 4 years before this, in 2015, efforts were made by a non-governmental organization called Vanashakti to save the forest. The NGO filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal asking that Aarey Milk Colony be declared as a Forest Area to prevent further shrinking. However, authorities came to no conclusion and matters stayed as they were.

The decision came as a win for Mumbaikars who refused to give in to infrastructural projects and demand the reservation of the forest area. The meeting to come to the decision conducted at the Chief Minister’s bungalow was attended by Dairy Development Minister Sunil Kedar and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray. In a press release, the chief minister’s office said tribal rights will be protected and slum redevelopment expedited. In addition to the CMO’s tweet, Aditya Thackeray announced through a tweet that the reservation of land as Forest would be undertaken in Phase 1. Phase 2, will later include additional surveys of open and forest land in Aarey to protect the flora and fauna of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Speaking about the decision, Revenue and Forest Principal Secretary, Milind Mhaiskar said,

“This land is clear of all infrastructure projects and only has some Adivasi padas. The Government may propose eco-tourism, night safari, or may simply let it stay as a core forest area.”

The move was welcomed by the National Green Tribunal, Bombay High Court and Supreme Court. A pioneer of the Save Aarey movement, D Stalin of the Vanashakti NGO said that the Thackeray government had been sincere in its commitment. Speaking about the decision, he said,

“Finally we have an honest admission about Aarey being a forest. When the forest gets recognized, tribal rights are protected and slum dwellers get a fair deal. I think it’s a win-win situation for Aarey’s long-term conservation”

The decision comes as a positive move by the incumbent Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra. Declaration of the decision holds many environmental as well as economic benefits for the city and its residents. The decision also seems to counteract the demands of an adamant builder lobby and the MMRC trying to encroach on the land for construction projects.

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