Maharashtra Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday said that around 800 acres of land in Mumbai’s Aarey have now been notified as a reserve forest. He added that the construction of the controversial Metrorail car shed project in the area will be shifted to Kanjurmag. The minister further stated that there would be no escalation in costs as the government already owned the land in the area.
Between September to October 2019, the proposed car shed had led to a bitter row between environmental activists and the then BJP-ruled Maharashtra government. They wanted to cut down approximately 2,700 trees of the Aarey forest for the shed construction.
Thackeray is of the view that the biodiversity in the Aarey forest needs to be protected. He added that the building which is already constructed in Aarey, will be used for some other public purposes.
The CM also directed the withdrawal of all police cases which were filed against Aarey protestors. Aditya Thackeray, the Environment Minister who campaigned to save the trees, had said last month that the protestors had fought for the future of the planet. Along with that, they also fought for the rights of Adivasi communities who call Aarey their home.
Bombay High Court in October last year refused to declare Aarey a forest or even quash Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s decision to allow the felling of trees. Under the cover of night, hours later, bulldozers rolled into Aarey, and many trees were cut amid a dramatic stand-off with protestors. In laymen terms, Aarey is a vast swathe of green cover with around five lakh trees and is the home of a wide variety of flora and fauna.
In a series of tweets, Aaditya had termed the cutting of trees in the cover of the night as a “shameful and disgusting” act. Many activist groups from all across the country wrote to then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi asking the intervention of the apex court.
Supreme Court then ordered a temporary stay which was extended in December. However, the then Maharashtra government said that it had already cleared the trees which were needed. SC again clarified that it would not stay construction of the car shed – on land that had already been cleared.
Then things took a different turn in November when BJP was ousted from power in Maharashtra despite winning the October elections. Shiv Sena (a long time ally of BJP in Maharashtra) had joined with the NCP and Congress to form a government of which Uddhav was the CM.
Uddhav Thackeray on one of his first decisions as a chief minister ordered a stay on the construction of the car shed—on cleared land as well.