On Sunday, Shiv Sena leader and former environment minister Aaditya Thackeray joined the ongoing protests at the Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai, against the new state government’s decision to shift the proposed Metro-3 car shed from Kanjurmarg back to Aarey Forest. After weeks of political turmoil in Maharashtra, in his first act as chief minister, Eknath Shinde overturned the previous administration’s decision on the issue, and is now facing a major public backlash.
The Yuva Sena leader also took to Twitter to condemn the current government’s move. “Aarey is a unique forest within our city. Uddhav Thackeray ji declared 808 acres of Aarey as Forest and the car shed must move out. Our human greed and lack of compassion cannot be allowed to destroy biodiversity in our city,” he wrote.
The previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray had declared 808 acres of Aarey as a reserved forest, and decided to move the car shed from Aarey colony to Kanjurmarg. “The MVA government was pro-Mumbai and pro-Maharashtra. The issue is not just about trees but about the rich biodiversity of Aarey Milk Colony which needs to be protected. I just want to tell the new government (Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis) to not take out their anger against us on Mumbai,” said Aaditya Thackeray while talking to reporters, on July 10.
Furthermore, he added, “It’s really unfortunate that the first decision they took was against the city. Having one car depot for metro lines 3, 6, 4, 14 at Kanjurmarg would not just have been a good thing but it would have saved approximately Rs 10,000 crore.” Reportedly, the Yuva Sena leader also indicated that the structure constructed at the metro site at Aarey was proposed to be converted into a veterinarian hospital. “This is a fight for Mumbai, fight for life. We fought for the forest and our tribals. When we were here no trees were uprooted. Cars go for maintenance once every 3-4 months, not every night,” argued Thackeray.
Sunday’s peaceful protest that took place at Picnic Point in Aarey Milk Colony saw a number of people including residents of the city, environmental activists, Shiv Sena, and other party workers and leaders. Reportedly, Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, MLA Ravindra Waikar, MLA Sunil Prabhu and other Sena party workers also joined Aaditya Thackeray. Aam Aadmi Party and Congress workers also staged a protest and raised slogans against the current state government’s decision.
The issue dates back to 2019, when the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation first sought the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) permission to fell trees at the Aarey colony for the metro car shed. It sparked major protests in the city as this move was vehemently opposed by the environmental activists and residents of Mumbai, according to whom, this forest provides fresh air to Mumbaikars and is also a key habitat for wildlife and endemic species.
Aarey Milk Colony, often termed the city’s green lung, is located in Goregaon’s western suburb, adjacent to Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is home to some 300 different varieties of flora and fauna, including a number of leopards and the rusty-spotted cat. Additionally, the forest has around five lakh trees and a few lakes and rivers flowing through it.
In 2019, then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis argued that the area selected for the metro car shed is not categorised as forest land, and reasoned that the metro project would reduce carbon footprint. At the time, the Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena coalition formed the government of Maharashtra, however, this decision was a point of contention between the two parties as the Sena did not agree with the construction of the depot at Aarey. Therefore, when they came to power later that year with the MVA government, the relocation of the metro car shed project from Aarey to Kanjurmarg was one of the first decisions.
Meanwhile, the BJP-led government at the Centre, in 2020, took this issue to the Bombay High Court, arguing that the land belonged to its Salt department. Subsequently, the High Court then issued a stay order and the land has since been caught in a legal dispute.
However, now that the former CM Devendra Fadnavis has become the deputy CM of the state, with the Shinde-BJP coalition in power, overturning the relocation of the project was one of the first moves. This has raised a fresh wave of protests over the issue in the financial capital. Notably, Fadnavis also directed the state Advocate General and members of the current administration to submit a proposal on building the car shed in Aarey colony instead of Kanjurmarg.