Mumbai metro site at Aarey forest to shift

BJP criticises Uddhav Thackeray’s move, environmentalists give a thumbs-up

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | October 12, 2020 | Mumbai


#BJP   #Shiv Sena   #Aarey Colony   #Mumbai Metro   #environment   #Uddhav Thackeray   #Maharashtra  
Aarey Forest (Photo courtesy: Creative Commons)
Aarey Forest (Photo courtesy: Creative Commons)

In a web address, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackerey on Sunday announced that the controversial Aarey car shed for line 3 of Mumbai Metro (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) on the western suburbs will now be shifted to Kanjurmarg on the eastern suburbs, incurring zero costs as the land belongs to the government. He also declared that the government has now increased the Aarey reserved forest cover from 600 acres to 800 acres.

“Biodiversity in Aarey needs to be to conserved and protected. Nowhere is there an 800-acre jungle in an urban setup. Mumbai has a natural forest cover,” he said, adding that there will be no infringement on the rights of tribals in the Aarey forests.

The government has earmarked its 41-hectare saltpan land at Kanjurmarg for metro line 6 (Vikhroli-Lokhandwala) car shed.   
 
Regarding the building which had come up on Aarey, Thackeray said it will now be used for some other public purpose. “About Rs 100 crore of expenditure was incurred for the purpose and it won't go waste," he added.

The announcement came amid reports that the state government was considering the option of sharing the same maintenance facility for both upcoming metro lines, for which it had asked Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to prepare a feasibility study. Reports last month had also said that Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) was closing and securing the Aarey car shed site. MMRC officials also had expressed apprehension that shifting metro 3 car shed could delay the project by three years and escalate costs by over Rs 2,000 crore.

Environmentalists and citizen activists had put a strong resistance against the car shed at Aarey since it is the only surviving major green patch in the city and a yard there would cause destruction of trees and increase flooding of the Mithi river.

Moreover, the forest land of Aarey helps in moderating the ambient temperatures in the city, as continuous use of concrete for construction creates “heat sinks”, which adds to the sweltering weather of the city.

The site is located in the catchment area of Mithi and its height was increased to bring it to the level of Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR). MMRCL had claimed to have spent Rr 450 crore to develop the site. The previous BJP-Shiv Sena government was to use 25 hectares of the car shed, maintain five hectares as green area and three hectares of casting yard to commercially exploit and fund the Rs 23,000 underground metro. While the BJP was vehemently in favour of the location, Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aditya Thackeray, now environment minister, had raised ecological concerns about the location.

Criticizing the latest move, the BJP called it an unfortunate decision to ‘satisfy ego’ and said it will escalate costs by up by at least Rs 4,000 crore as assessed by a committee appointed by the government itself.

Senior BJP leader Kirit Somaiya said the project will get delayed by five years, besides cost escalation. The new site will require setting up an additional track of 8 km which will mean longer travel. He said that the land at Kanjurmarg is disputed for which the Bombay high court has asked the government to deposit around Rs 2000 crore. He added that as the land is marshy, it will require another three years to prepare it for construction.

Devendra Fadnavis, former state chief minister, tweeted that Kanjurmarg site had been considered by the government earlier but it was under litigation and stay from the high court. “What is the status of that case today and if someone moves supreme court who will be responsible for delay? All previous tenders will have to be scrapped and new process followed. No DPR or feasibility report has been made for this site.” He also said that the project which would have been in the service of Mumbaikars just next year has been postponed indefinitely.

On the other hand, Anand Pendharkar, a wildlife biologist who is also founder of ‘SPROUTS’ and a member of the Aarey Conservation Group, said that the BJP’s claim that Kanjurmarg land is private has been proven false in the high court. He asked why nobody had come forward to make their claim in court so far.

He also pointed out how the BJP-led government at the centre is coming up with the bullet train project on private land affecting 48,000 farmers and the Navi Mumbai airport project is coming up on parts of private land.  If the new car shed site is on marshy land, then how is the metro 6 shed coming up on the same land, he asked.

“It is a 127 acre plot with hardly any trees and can accommodate three yards. First they said the land is under litigation, then they said it is private. They have taken the city for a ride. The court must punish them for making us give up our work and life and fight the case in court for six years. They wasted the court’s time and the city’s time and now they are talking of cost escalation. They said they spent Rs 80 crore looking for alternative sites and we the citizens have been doing surveys, finding ownership of land, feasibility, designs in other states and countries. Is this a citizen’s job?” he asked, adding that Covid-19 pandemic has brought the attention to giving priority to the environment.    

Adding that the underground Metro 3 is one of the worst designed metros, impacting heritage structures, the environmentalist said the new station which will connect yards of metro 6 and metro 3 will save huge land in the space starved city.

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