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I Have Found My Career Calling, It Is To Save Aarey Forest

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In 2002, travelling to papa’s shop meant a 35-minute long bone crushing train journey to Goregaon. Needless to say, it was seldom a happy affair. Whenever it was, it was because of the visit to Chota Kashmir, VIP guesthouse, Picnic Point, Film City, Tapeshwar Mahadev Mandir, all under the green canopy of Aarey Milk Colony lined up as a promise for me.

It soothed me, I could run, dance, watch butterflies and birds from up close, be scared of the leopards (which never appeared, phew!), lookout for jungle cats, have a splash in the tiny rivulets, eat fresh mulberries. Yes. All of this, right here in the currently concrete Mumbai.

There was enough time for Mumbaikars to romanticise Mumbai. Loving the rains, the street food, the nightlife, the beaches, the seafronts, the architecture, the cool winds that flow around the fort area, the economic powerhouse called Dharavi, the festivals, the glitz and glamour that come with the media industry and the Mumbai spirit. The spirit that comes handy during floods, fires, blasts, attacks.

The spirit exists all over this vast country perhaps, but because of the dense, hot, thus closely knit concrete box prone to disasters that Mumbai is, it comes handy every time.

There was enough time for Mumbaikars to romanticise Mumbai. Until now.

The rains, traffic, heat, pipeline bursts, fires – nothing is funny anymore.

In his book “Mumbai Safari: Nature In The Extreme”, Sunjoy Monga showed that there has been a 50% decline in wetlands, grasslands and agricultural land in Mumbai region in the decade from 2003-04, and more worryingly, a phenomenal 80% worsening of the quality of habitat, which led to a decline in several species. A drop in the ground-level foliage and grasslands meant a loss of ground birds. Bats and butterfly species, too, had reduced as the tree cover on the eastern side made way for buildings. His book ought to be made compulsory reading for all those in charge of the city’s development plan – Smart BKC project, Mumbai Next endeavour and suchlike.

The next big assault on the city is, of course, on Aarey Milk Colony land that has been earmarked for a metro car-shed and an elevated road among other constructions.

Two student researchers, Rajesh Sanap and Zeeshan Mirza, who studied the area for the past eight years documented, according to reports, a list of 77 different bird species, more than 90 types of spiders, six species of scorpions, 86 species of butterflies and six species of venomous snakes. Others who have tracked Mumbai’s biodiversity believe the city is rather rich in this sector too. The extended Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) holds its own biodiversity wealth, hardly documented but now threatened. A pity then that those with power are not on its side.

As someone who has loved every bit of the 21 years here, and wants to love every bit of the future too, I got personally attacked when I first read about the planned massacre at Aarey. All the sweet memories came rushing to me, I hugged them tightly. All through my years of graduation, in bits and parts, I tried to be a part of the Save Aarey movement. As an aspiring ad-man, it was inspiring to see big names and great writers coming in support of the movement. This year, after graduating with a major in advertising, I knew one thing for sure, I want to Save Aarey Forest.

The pace at which Mumbai has grown is undoubtedly phenomenal. Slowly creeping into northern suburbs years after reclaiming land in the south, Mumbai is bursting at its seams. Yet somehow creepily it is still expanding. To make things better, we need a good transport system. And in some years, we’ll need it to be the best.

No pun intended, but the B.E.S.T. (Bombay Electric Supply and Tramway Company Limited) is being cut off from funds, while private cars, private taxi services are increasing day by day. The amount of money invested in metro trains, if invested properly in the Mumbai Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or well-planned bus fleets, will solve a lot of travel problems in a much efficient way, Not only a metro. I do not know how much the ₹3600 crore Shivaji Statue will give back to Mumbai. But I sure know that Shivaji too would have loved to see that kind of money improving our transport systems in a sustainable manner.

Among many other problems that the island city is facing with the messiah metro, the worst one is the threat to Aarey- the lungs of Mumbai. I just want to say one thing, come to Aarey. Experience its beauty. And visit the other alternatives to Aarey at hand. Aarey, often confused as a milk colony and only a milk colony, is a part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and rightly so. The energy it infuses into you, because of its biodiversity spread across acres of tracts of trees of all kinds, is phenomenal. A metro car shed can be anywhere else in the city but Aarey.

The Save Aarey movement has been going on since 2014 and it is time we realise, this needs to end. Once and for all. Shut the idea of building a parking lot at Aarey. Declare it a highly protected zone. The polluting activities that come along with a car shed, are better kept off from my jungle. The alternatives are barren, with no comparable ecological damage, and on the same route as the Metro 3.

As I said before, it is not about the corruption, the legalities that will anyway be looked into by the National Green Tribunal on November 10, 2017. It is about every Mumbaikar’s right to keep breathing what these 3500 plus trees keep exhaling, the right to have a better Mithi river, on whose catchment, the proposed-illegal-much disliked car shed is being built. If you believe the authorities care, look at what has been done to the Yeoor hills, the mangroves all around Mumbai, Tungareshwar National Park, Mithi river, Poisar river, Ulhas river, beaches of Mumbai and now, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Yes! They plan to build a parking lot there as well as a Goregaon- Mulund Link Road plans to rip apart its belly. Forest lands are being converted into commercial lands all across the country).

But the plain fact remains- Mumbai cannot afford to give away even an inch of Aarey, forget 33 hectares and 3,500 trees amongst other things. At this crucial hour, we need to rise up and take support from all corners. Our family, friends, colleagues, influencers, leaders all need to have at least a viewpoint on the issue. Take sides. Do not hide behind veils of ignorance and silence. Read about the struggle, reach out to the Save Aarey volunteers, talk to legal experts, question MMRC and other leaders of Mumbai involved.

It is we who build our cities the way we want. And if we want to build them to be sustainable – who can stop us?

Sign this petition to make your voice heard!


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