600 Acres of Aarey Land to Be Reserved as Forest. We Need Leaders Who Put Environment First

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600 Acres of Aarey Land to Be Reserved as Forest. We Need Leaders Who Put Environment First

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Finally, there is some good news from the year 2020. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday announced that 600-acres of Aarey land near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park will be reserved as forests. The area of the reserved forest excludes the land on which car shed for the Metro Line 1 is to come up.

“This will be the first instance of an extensive forest blossoming within the limits of a metropolis anywhere in the world,” the Chief Minister tweeted.

Aaditya Thackeray, Minister of Tourism and Environment in the Maharashtra government, took to Twitter to announce that CM Uddhav Thackeray had chaired a meeting on Aarey with the forest and environment departments, and a decision was made to invoke Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act in respect of 600 acres in the over 3,000-acre Aarey Milk Colony.

“Approx 600 acres of open land being declared as forest while all rights of Adivasi communities will stand protected. Rehabilitation of slums within the area would be expedited,” the Jr Thackeray tweeted.

As reported by The Indian Express, government officials stated that the land to be reserved as forest doesn’t include the proposed car shed and adjoining Metro projects. The official added that once declared as a reserved forest, the land becomes unavailable for development.

Aaditya Thackeray thanked Maharashtra Cabinet minister Sunil Kedar for his stand “to protect the flora and fauna of the Aarey land”. Aarey has 27 tribal padas, or hamlets, with an adivasi population of over 10,000. It is also home to more than 290 wild species of flora and fauna.

Aarey has been the center of controversy in the State since the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) decided to construct a car shed in the area, and cleared 2,000 trees for the same, triggering mass protests in Mumbai last October. Aaditya Thackeray had opposed the cutting of trees for the proposed car shed and in the runup to the Assembly elections, stated the need to designate the area as a forest.

Environmentalists and activists who lent their support to the #SaveAarey campaign, have welcomed this move. “I would like to welcome this declaration as the first step towards conservation of Aarey forest. We know that the entire Aarey is around 1280 hectares. This area has dense tree cover, Mithi River and main tributaries of Oshiwara River are flowing through Aarey. Entire Aarey is the catchment area for both Mithi and Oshiwara River and hence this entire area is needed to be protected,” said Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) member Amrita Bhattacharjee.

Mumbaikars are elated. Actor Randeep Hooda praised the government, stating that he wishes other governments also follow suit.

“It’s a step in the right direction, much more will be done to protect all of #Aarey. But a superb start!” tweeted Preeti Sharma Menon of the Aam Aadmi Party.

For environment activists, the CM’s decision is significant.

And it is exactly what Mumbai needs.

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