Aarey forest is located near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) stretched over 1,300 hectares of land in the northern suburb of Goregaon. Aarey or Aarey Milk Colony has also termed the metropolis’ green lungs which is the residence of various indigenous tree species of varied flora, various animals, and fauna and it is also home to 27 Adivasi hamlets. It is classified as a mixed moist deciduous type forest working as a buffer between the SGNP and the city of Mumbai.
Mumbai Civic body’s tree authority granted permission to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation to cut down over 2,700 trees from Aarey Milk Colony so that they can build a car shed in that place for the metro authorities. This enraged environmentalists and a Mumbai-based NGO named Vanashakti filed a petition in the Bombay High Court to declare the 1,280-hectare area of Aarey Milk Colony as a ‘Reserved Forest’ or a ‘Protected Forest’ under the Indian Forest Act of 1927. In response to the petition, the Civic administration, and Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. criticized saying that the Mumbai court cannot decide and designate the entire area of the forest as a ‘Reserved Forest’. Environmentalists and residents of that area also protested relocating the bus depot that is being built under the Metro III project. However, Mumbai High Court dismissed the notion of Aarey Milk Colony as a ‘Reserved Forest’ and the petition against cutting down trees on October 4 in 2019.
Since then there have been a series of protests, environmentalists, residents & even the tribals from Aarey forest have raised their voices against the felling of trees under the pretext of a metro car shed. Many times Sections 141, 144, and 149 have been imposed to discourage protests, as well as notices, were sent. Instances where protestors, many of them students, have been arrested. Many locals who were not even participating in the protests were harassed mistakenly by police when the restrictions were imposed.
Under the governance of Eknath Shinde as the new Maharashtra Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, the state government declared that they will carry on the metro car shed project in the proposed area. Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thakeray also participated with the protesters against the car shed including the total forest area and said, “Under our government, we had declared 808 acres of land as forests. We fought for the forests to protect our tribals.
When we were here, no trees were uprooted.” He also added, “Whatever anger they have against us should not be taken out on the city. Jungles and the environment need to be protected with climate change upon us.” Depicting the feud Thackeray and Shinde had before the Chief Ministerial position. Aaditya Thackeray also reminded the former CM’s decision to shift the metro car shed project from Aarey to Kanjurmarg.
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also initiated their support for the protest against the car shed in Aarey. According to AAP Mumbai on Twitter, “Despite multiple alternative feasible sites being available. CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis have announced that the Metro 3 car shed will be shifted to Aarey Forest. We want the Metro and we also want our forest. The solution exists and that is the Metro-shed be built at Kanjurmarg.”
Environmentalists also raged against the cutting of trees under police protection and hundreds of protesters including women and senior citizens gathered around the protest site to demonstrate their concerns against the forest with placards that read, “Save Aarey.”
The Supreme Court said on 5th August 22 that authorities should refrain from cutting trees in Mumbai’s Aarey Forest area until further hearing. The bench of justices including U.U. Lalit, Aniruddha Bose, and S Ravindra Bhatt said, “Considering the facts on record, in our view, it will suffice to say as stated by the respondent Corporation that no tree has been cut since October 7, 2019, and no further tree will be cut till the next date of hearing.
” At the next hearing, the SC will be considering the matters related to Aarey Forest and the need for preserving the area as the “green lung” of the city. Following the judgment provided by the SC regarding the matter of Aarey Forest, a group of activists along with local and tribal people held a “Save Aarey Forest” protest demonstration and tied friendship bands to one another on the eve of Friendship day.
Many tied Rakhees to the trees too, as the tree huggers celebrated Raksha Bandhan amidst the forest of Aarey. One of the activists confirmed that a large number of local people including Adivasi residents participate in the Aarey movement at Picnic Point, Mumbai.