I Have Lived In Mumbai For Over 20 Years And Today They Want To Cut My Pride

I remember when I was a little girl, my vicinity was much greener. It was no big deal then that the recreational activities in my school included planting saplings in nearby areas and cleaning gardens around us. In all my 10 years of school, along with lakhs of kids across Mumbai, I was taught that trees filter the much-polluted air we provide them with, and emit oxygen that is essential for our survival.

When I reached my teenage years, I could see people my age realising that the peace and much-needed fresh air (which we could acquire in the midst of forests and greenery) could be met nowhere else. While there were toddlers and little kids fighting for video games, we were awaiting our next trip to the jungles of Aarey and the National Park. At that time, not even once did I think that one day, my happy place, the place that balances the oxygen level of my Mumbai, would be so gravely endangered. The danger I now talk about is not one that can be reversed, not one that can be negotiated and certainly not the one that I will let come so easy on all of us Mumbaikars.

Aarey Colony, located in the western Mumbai suburb, is one of the last few lungs of the city. It has a plethora of living species, numerous trees and a complex ecosystem – and is certainly a forest land.

Now you may ask – why this sudden uproar over the protection of Aarey Colony? It is because the dense forest in this area is planned to be shattered by our ‘oh-so-development-freaks’ in the state. A project worth ₹2,000 crores will soon dig its claws deep into the homes of thousands of people and animals. The most surprising fact of all this is that the government fails to recognize Aarey as a forest, since there are no ‘forest activities’ carried out in the region.

The forest in Aarey Colony may soon become history if the MMRC goes on with its metro rail car-shed building project.

The fact is, Aarey has been a haven for all kinds of living species (including humans) – and the activities carried out in the region are loudly and clearly the ones that should be carried out in the forests. The Adivasis, who are forest dwellers, are purposely mistaken as ‘slum dwellers’ – and are assured that they will be be given apartments in buildings. This is just to clear all traces of the Adivasis from the forests, irrespective of their choices.

According to the plan proposed (and apparently approved), the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation is set to acquire 33 hectares out of the total forest land area in Aarey Colony, and convert it into a metro car-shed and lines of depot. Once cleared, the project would lead to destruction of not only the Adivasis residing there, but also the unique species of plants and animals. The Mithi river flowing through the dense forest may well become a dumping puddle of litter once the project starts taking roots in that area.

The most shocking of all this is that there are a number of alternatives available that can save Aarey – such as the barren lands across Mumbai or the convenient-but-less-revenue-generating Kanjurmarg. Instead, the plan insists on just one point – that Aarey is not a forest, and hence developmental work can and should be carried out. Consequently, they fail to recognise the above mentioned alternatives.

The discussion halts at just one question – is the value of money that will be generated at the expense of millions of lives so much that the government can’t strictly oppose the plan and make a wise move of letting all of Mumbai breathe peacefully?

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