Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray declared the 800 acres of land in Mumbai’s Aarey to be a reserve forest. He stated that the construction of the controversial car shed for a Metrorail project in the area would shift to Kanjurmarg. The CM further said that there will be no rise in costs. He noted that the government already owned land in the area.
Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be protected
The proposed car shed in Aarey had led protests in September and October last year. The clash was between environmental activists and the then BJP-led Maharashtra government. The state government wanted to cut down 2,700 trees to build the shed. “This uncertainty over the car shed is over now. Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be protected. There is an 800-acre jungle in an urban set-up… Mumbai has natural forest cover.” CM Uddhav Thackeray said. He further added that the building already constructed in Aarey would be used for some other public purpose.
Withdrawal of all police cases against Aarey protesters
The Chief Minister also called for the withdrawal of all police cases filed against Aarey protesters. This move was announced in December last year as well. The cases pertain to those filed against people who tried to stop the authorities from cutting down the trees. Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray had also campaigned to save the trees. Last month, he said the protesters had fought for the future of the planet and that the rights of Adivasi communities. These very communities that call Aarey home, would be protected.
On Sunday, after the reserve forest announcement, Aaditya Thackeray tweeted: “Aarey saved!” A huge clash broke out last year over the then Maharashtra government’s decision to cut down trees in Aarey. Aarey is a vast swathe of green with around five lakh trees and home to a wide variety of animals and birds.
People protested at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony at night while Mumbai authorities began cutting trees
In October the Bombay High Court refused to declare Aarey a forest. It also refused to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation’s decision to allow the cutting of trees. Hours later, at midnight, bulldozers arrived in Aarey. These bulldozers felled trees following a huge clash with the protesters. In a series of tweets Aaditya Thackeray termed the cutting of the trees as a “shameful and disgusting” act. He added that the act was carried out “in cover of night”. Activists, including a group of law students, wrote to then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asking the SC to intervene.
The power play that saved the Aarey forest
The SC ordered a temporary stay that was extended in December. But the Maharashtra government said it had already cut down the trees it needed to. The court then clarified that it would not stay construction of the car shed on land that had already been cleared. In November, however, the BJP fell from power in Maharashtra despite winning the October election. The Shiv Sena joined with the NCP and Congress to form a government and Uddhav Thackeray became chief minister. CM Thackeray ordered a stay on construction of the car shed in one of his first decisions as CM.