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Sunday, February 25, 2024

#SaveAarey Protestors case had no merits!


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Let me on the set of my article quote from the judgement of October 4, 2019 by the Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court, Bharati Dhange:

In the two companion petitions which we have dismissed today, the Greens fail even in these two petitions, but not on account of sailing their boats in the wrong channel, but on merits.”

HC held that the #SaveAarey protestors cases were dismissed  – one challenging the Tree Authority permission to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) for tree felling and the other case to declare ‘Aarey as a Forest’ – because it lacked merit.

So in effect the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court is stating that MMRC case and the Mumbai Metro Line 3 project has merits.

Right at the onset I was off the opinion that the #SaveAarey protest was an act of a few Church-sponsored NGOs, political parties and Bollywood celebrities targeting an important infrastructure development using the ‘Save Environment’ card to garner sympathy from genuine citizens who do care about the environment.

In fact the Catholic Church even went to the extent to use little children as fodder to push their agenda of ‘Save Aarey’. Now it is known fact that the Catholic Church has been fighting for a land allotted for a cemetery (5000 sqmts) for decades. United Christian Community – a representative organisation of the Church won the case in 2017.

On August 6, 2019 an MMRDA notification proposed that reservation off the plot as cemetery be cancelled and be used for the Metro Bhavan. MMRDA

This apparently triggered off a disappointment in some powerful sections of the Church lobby in Mumbai.

This coupled with the on-going court case on ‘Tree Felling case’ and ‘Aarey as a Forest case’ at the Bombay High Court led to some Churches, Christian NGOs and its members actively coming out to fuel the #SaveAarey protest and turn it movement against Mumbai Metro Line 3 project under the guise of saving the environment and saving the lives of children.

I am curious about the fact that would not the land allotted to the Christian community as a burial ground witness cutting off trees to make a cemetery or are the Church leaders telling the people of Mumbai that they would burying the departed on the trees.

Interestingly the NGO Vanshakti that has been fighting the Aarey Colony Car Depot and trying to make a cause that Aarey is a forest is under the watch of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). In fact the application for FCRA clearance as an NGO was declined by MHA citing ‘Not in Public Interest’. The NGO had appealed to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi to look into the matter of their FCRA application which was rejected.

Now Vanshakti in its fight against the Aarey Milk Colony location proposed several locations to the  Chief Minister for Maharashtra. One of those locations was the Royal Palms land which previously used to be a part of its ambitious Golf Course project. Royal Palms in a letter offered that land to Vanshakti as an alternative. Vanshakti put their proposal forward to Chief Minister.

However, what Royal Palms or Vanshakti have not told the people of Mumbai is the pound of flesh that Royal Palms wanted to extract from the Government of Maharashtra for its act of working in the interest of the environment.

To quote Ashwini Bhide, MD, MMRCL, “Owners of Royal Palms as well as Vanshakti had approached the CMO in 2015 and offered land in Royal Palms to house the Metro Car Depot in lieu of 4 FSI on a 25 Ha plot. The proposal was sent to MMRC for examination.

After site visit and detailed technical scrutiny, it was observed that the said proposal was not only financial burdensome but also technically not suitable and environmentally more detrimental, apart from being undue advantageous to a private landowner while more suitable and cheaper option of Car Depot on Govt. land was already available. Therefore, the proposal was not considered.”

Which brings us to the question why would the NGO push this real estate company. Interestingly, one of the members of the NGO stays in the Royal Palms Residential Complex in Aarey.

Politicians and Bollywood celebrities protesting for the #SaveAarey campaign is like watching a comedy show on TV. You don’t take it with a pinch of salt but take it with a nice cold beer coupled with a few nachos because it is going to be entertaining.

Imagine post the HC order, you have a Chief Minister aspirant from Shiv Sena, Aaditya Thackeray mouth statements that make him look like a juvenile instead of a seasoned politician.

His father Uddhav Thackeray went a step further to threaten the MMRC team, saying that when the Shiv Sena comes back to power, it will teach MMRC team members a lesson. This statement is worse than being a juvenile. It actually borders on stupidity and misplaced arrogance.

Coming to the Bollywood celebrities. I would really like to encourage people like Dia Mirza, Karan Johar, Farhan Akthar, Varun Dhawan and many others to ditch their fuel guzzling, pollution spewing SUVs and use public transportation.

This encouragement would go a long way in motivating more citizens to leave their cars and take public transportation. This would even force the government to work towards putting in place a public transport infrastructure that meets quality and quantity needs of the people of India, not only in Mumbai.

In the end I believe that Mumbai Metro Line 3 will become a reality because it is a necessity for the people of Mumbai. I also believe that MMRC will work towards maintaining an eco-balance on this project in return for the felling and replanting of some of the trees.

I believe that this project will walk the path of ecological sensitivities because it has been registered under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change under Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In this the United Nations approved Auditor will inspect the project in a timely manner to measure its ecological balance and its efforts to Climate Change.

But most of all my message is to the genuine people who care about the environment and about Mumbai. Your protest was not wrong. You have every right to raise a concern. But if you would care to reach out to the MMRC team of young, dynamic professionals instead of believing in the propaganda of some of those with vested interests, you could have understood this project from the onset, offered plausible suggestions and even contribute to working for the environment. You still can.

I believe no person with common sense will ever work against the environment. We all love the environment and we want a better, safer world for our children. But environment is not only about trees, it is about a balance of all resources. Because if was only about trees, then most of the people in Mumbai should be living in huts and not buildings.

Don’t be an observer, be a preserver!

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