Mumbai: In just five years, the island city of Mumbai and its adjoining regions, have witnessed a major infrastructure push which was the need of the hour. In Mumbai 15 different construction sites for the laying of Metro lines have been set up. Besides the Metro, there are other big-ticket mass transit projects, including the Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor and the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link also known as the Sewri-Nava-Sheva sea link. However, these projects have taken a toll on the scant green cover remaining in Mumbai.

The Mumbai Metro Line-3 (Colaba–Bandra–SEEPZ) requires the cutting down of more than 2,000 big trees for the construction of a Metro car shed in Aarey Colony, located in the heart of the suburb, Goregaon. Several green lovers and activists are against this move. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Bombay High Court (HC) against the proposed Metro car shed by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL). The petitioner has asked that the Metro-3 car shed be shifted to another location so that Mumbai’s only forest can be saved from being destroyed. The matter is being heard daily since September 17, by a bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharti Dangre.

Save Aarey

Land required for the Metro-3 car shed construction

The MMRCL wants 33 hectares of land in Aarey Colony, which they claim is only two per cent of the total green belt. For the car shed, MMRCL will have to clear about 2,700 trees. The authority has promised in return to plant three times as many trees in the city.

Why people are against the trees being cut:

However, save the Aarey forest supporters are strongly against the cutting down of the existing trees. Mumbai based activist Zoru Bhathena and Stalin D. have cited environmental concerns and filed a petition in the Bombay High Court.

The petitioners reasoned that the site earmarked for the car shed in Aarey is a habitat for wildlife. Moreover, it is also a floodplain land and during monsoon, when the Mithi River overflows, the excess water drains into this floodplain land preventing the city from flooding. Therefore, if the Metro car shed is built, the city will face floods. They have also alleged that the development at Aarey will exploit the forest land and allow for various other development projects to be taken up.

The supporters want the authorities to consider Kanjurmarg land as an option for the construction of the car shed. The expert committee has recommended linking the Metro line-3 with Metro line-6 (Lokhandwala-Jogeshwari-Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg Line) and that a common car shed be built for both lines.

However, MMRCL has justified that the recommended land parcel at Kanjurmarg is not technically feasible for the Metro-3 project. Moreover, the land is embroiled in litigation and would delay Metro work and increase the cost of the project. Authorities say, a major portion of civil work has already been completed and from next year they will be receiving Metro rakes. Since there is no car shed, there is no place to keep the rakes. Authorities are insisting building the car shed in Aarey itself.

Save Aarey

Citizens form Human chain to oppose felling of trees:

To oppose tree cutting and save Aarey from deforestation, citizens including the youth and children took to the streets. On weekends human chains are formed at Aarey Colony. The save Aarey supporters are also using social media platforms to reach out to as many people as possible. Interestingly, Mumbai’s local trains also have supporters who encourage other travelers to join in the protest.

Political drama over tree cutting:

The fight to not have a Metro car shed in Aarey has been ongoing for the last five years in the courts. However, the issue garnered citizens’ attention only after the Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Tree Authority approved the proposal to fell the trees, despite receiving 80,000 objections from the public against granting permission to the MMRCL. The tree authority is a committee controlled by local councillors. Last year, Mumbai-based Activist Zoru Bhathena, filed a plea in the Bombay HC pointing out that, there are no experts in the tree authority committee. Following this, the Bombay HC restrained the BMC in October 2018 to not approve any proposal of tree felling until the committee inducts tree experts as per the Maharashtra (urban areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975.

On August 29, 2019, the committee approved the proposal with a lot of political drama. Astonishingly, the Shiv Sena ruled BMC accused the opposition (Congress and Nationalist Congress Party) for supporting the tree felling proposal . The drama took a turn for the worse when the newly appointed experts were accused and drew flak from supporters for voting in favour for a car shed in Aarey colony. They were accused of taking bribes to grant permission. Following the rising controversy, two experts tendered their resignation. However, the BMC commissioner Praveen Pardeshi reportedly asked them to reconsider their decision.

Metro to reduce crowd in existing local trains:
The mass transit projects are expected to provide seamless connectivity and reduce congestion of Mumbai’s existing local trains. According to records with the Maharashtra government, on average daily at least eight people die falling from overcrowded trains, crossing railway tracks and other train-related mishaps. The existing railway network carries more than seven million commuters a day, almost three times its capacity.

Ashwini Bhide, managing director of MMRCL in her tweet on why metro in Mumbai:
“This is why we need to expand #PublicTransport network of #Mumbai at the earliest. Existing one is overburdened & bursting at its seams. It needs a break. Citizens of this vibrant city who need to commute daily for their #livelihood deserve safer, comfortable & dignified commute (sic).”

“This is @MumbaiMetro3 #CarDepot. It’s just 2% land at 1 corner of #AareyMilkColony surrounded by major roads on all 3 sides. There are 3691 trees with 40% exotic trees not so good. 1045 trees are retained. 461 will be transplanted nearby. 2185 may need cutting. 13000 will be planted (sic).”

Celebrities in support of Mumbai Metro:

Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan tweeted about the benefits of the Metro. He shared an experience his friend had, saying how the Metro was a saviour for him. His tweet read, “Friend of mine had a medical emergency, decided to take METRO instead of his car .. came back very impressed .. said was faster, convenient and most efficient .. Solution for Pollution .. Grow more trees .. I did in my garden .. have you (sic).”

Similarly, action hero Akshay Kumar also applauded the Metro for providing seamless connectively and saving time as compared to roadways. He travelled in Metro One (Ghatkopar—Andheri—Versova) and uploaded a video on Twitter sharing his experience. However, both actors drew a lot of flak.

A group of activists gathered at Mr Bachchan’s bungalow in Juhu shouting ‘Save Aarey’ slogans and holding placards. While, on the other hand, netizens slammed Akshay and questioned him on why did he not take the Metro till date?

Features of Metro Line 3:

The Metro Line-3 is 33.5 km long.
It is the only underground Metro corridor in Mumbai.
It will have 27 stations.
It is expected to be operational by 2021.
As per the detailed project report, by 2031 the Metro Line-3 will carry nearly 16.99 lakh passengers per day.
The project tunnelling work began in November 2017.
Till date 28 km of the 56 km of tunnelling has been carried out, which will make up 33.5-km of each tunnel. 
It is expected to reduce the carbon footprint and number of vehicles on the roads. The project is being financed by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and by the Union and Maharashtra government.

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