Promises of development are all well and good - but the fact is that there is a price to pay. And over the last couple of years, the governments at the Centre and in the state of Maharashtra seem to be alright with letting the environment bear the brunt.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recently decided to construct a Metro Rail Car Shed at the pristine Aarey Colony in Mumbai. It's a classic example of how the government is least bothered about the environment.
The Centre's decision just adds to a long list of decisions the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has taken, which adversely impact Mumbai and the rest of the state's fragile ecology.
In one of its first decisions after taking over the reins of the state in 2014, the government scrapped the 15-year-old River Regulatory Zone (RRZ) in the state, allegedly to help a multinational company. The decision is the last nail in the coffin for the state's already-polluted rivers, as now industries can come up right on the river banks and release effluents directly into the river.
Similarly, the adamance on constructing the Metro Rail Car Shed at Aarey Colony will ensure that the pristine green cover dies a slow death. Aarey Colony is the part of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is considered the lungs of Mumbai.
The Union Minister for the Environment, Prakash Javadekar, said during his visit to Mumbai on Saturday that Aarey Colony was the only option for the car shed.
Environmentalists opposing the car shed had suggested an alternative site at Kanjurmarg. The government even conducted a survey of the site and agreed that car shed could be constructed there. But, surprisingly, litigation came up from nowhere, and the government went back to the Aarey Colony site.
Javadekar stressed that the site was ideal for the car shed, and that the government won't leave any stone unturned to ensure the environment suffers minimum damage. Fadnavis, too, has assured that only 350 trees would now be cut, as against more than 2,500, as per the earlier plan.
The government, according to the CM, is firm on constructing the car shed at Aarey Colony, because shifting it elsewhere will increase the cost of project by Rs 1,500 crore.
However, environmentalists are not ready to buy the theory. "The track record of the state government and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) contradicts the claims. It has been proved time and again that MMRDA is least bothered about the environment and never sticks to its assurances. There are reasons for not believing the government on this count," said Stalin D, director (projects), Vanashakti, a Mumbai-based NGO.
Stalin is a member of the Aarey Conservation Group, the umbrella organisation of various NGOs working for the cause. He said it was difficult to understand why the government was adamant on constructing the car shed at Aarey Colony.
"We had suggested many options, including the one about a tract of land in Aarey Colony, along the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR). But the government and MMRDA is in no mood to even consider it, for the reasons best known to them," Stalin said.
After Javadekar's statement on Saturday, the environmentalists have decided to intensify the agitation.
"We have achieved a lot during the litigation at the National Green Tribunal. But the government is not ready to understand the mood of the people. After what Javadekar said, we need to restart the fight, as it is like going back to square one. The only reason that government chose the site for the metro car shed is that it will be an asset worth billions in the years to come, which could be exploited commercially once the car shed is built. This will destroy the forest," Stalin said.
He added: "We are not against metro rail. We are only demanding relocation of the car shed. We will try and mobilise the tribal communities living inside the Aarey forest to stand against the destruction of the forest."
According to a 2006 Supreme Court order, it is mandatory to keep eco-sensitive zones up to 10 km from the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. "Moreover, the MoEF, in an affidavit submitted to the NGT, has accepted that Aarey Colony is well within the eco-sensitive zone of SGNP," Stalin said.
The environmentalists have suggested Bandra Kurla Complex, Kanjurmarg and Kalina as alternative sites for the car shed.
A senior MMRDA official, who did not wish to be named, said: "We acknowledge the ecological concerns of the environmentalists. We have incorporated several aspects of environment protection while planning the project. Once completed, the Metro Rail will considerably reduce the carbon footprint of the city, as the majority of the people today using cars would shift to the metro.
"As far as the relocation of the car shed is concerned, it is impossible at the sites suggested, because the car shed has necessarily to be at either end of the line. It can't be constructed midway."
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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