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‘Aarey Aika Na’: There Is A Price To Be Paid For The Govt’s Unabashed Neglect Of Aarey

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The axe fell on Aarey in the early hours of October 5. Months of peaceful protests and demonstrations were nullified in a swift move as the government began a reckless felling of trees. The protesting multitudes have been hushed and thrown into jails, their gagged mouth shall no more raise ‘anti-national’ slogans. Meanwhile, the bhakts can flood the internet with seemingly legit justification and perhaps even praise for the ‘good work‘ the government has been doing.

The shower of praises had already started to take the internet by storm even before the tree felling. The recent instance of BJP government’s strongest henchman in Bollywood, Akshay Kumar’s sudden praise for the Mumbai metros was a ruthless slap on the face of ‘save Aarey’ activists.

Numerous propaganda material has surfaced over a short period of time, in the form of social media posts, media reports, false testimonies in favour of the felling of 2,700 trees in Mumbai’s Aarey forest. Among them, #aareyaikana was a tactful move by assumably the state machinery for reversing the relentless work of the activists. The phrase that can be roughly translated to “hey listen” has indeed caught the attention of many social media users. I would say that scientifically incorrect and legally misleading information has been disbursed to the unsuspecting masses in this manner.

The Story So Far

Aarey, the green lungs of Mumbai has been in constant degradation since the British cleared a patch for dairy farming during colonial rule. Things have been going downhill since. Patches of the forests have been exploited for numerous commercial activities over the years. Large tracts of its land have been given away in the past to Bollywood, for the film city, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, military base, etc.

The newly proposed car shed for Metro 3, according to activists (experts), requires only nine to ten hectares. But on paper, the requirement is mentioned as being 33 hectares. Making matters even worse, the 2,700 trees actually cover an area of 120 hectares (much more than 33). This raises several disturbing questions, which is conveniently being ignored by the government.

Apart from the proposed car shed that has grabbed media attention, a ‘Metro Bhavan’, a Slum Rehabilitation Area (SRA), a zoo, etc have also been planned on other patches of Aarey. This is a classic case of land grabbing and exposes nefarious designs of the state. Serious investigations may bring to light, questionable nexus between the state and corporate players.

Environmental Repercussions

These patches are ‘Ecological Sensitive Zones’ and are banned from being used for commercial purposes, especially for the construction of polluting industries. In a quick move, these regions have been denotified and downgraded to ‘Special Zones‘ enabling the government to make decisions regarding their use. The recent Mumbai floods owe its occurrence to policy decisions as unthoughtful as these.

The Methi river flows through Aarey and forms a catchment area in the forest. Construction activities initiated in Aarey to level the forest floor have reduced the water-absorbing capacity of the land, causing severe floods in its downstream areas. Apart from this, three other rivers originate in the forest, making it an important self thriving ecosystem.

The forest is also home to a number of leopards, other animals, a variety of birds, insects, spiders and numerous kinds of flora. In a bid to hush this point of contention, the government had proposed the construction of a zoo within the precincts of the forest. This blunder has however invited further wrath and criticism, rightly.

MUMBAI, INDIA – OCTOBER 2: Residence of Aarey colony and Aam Aadmi Party members protest against Maharashtra govt. for tree cutting to make Metro shed construction at Aarey Colony, on October 2, 2018 in Mumbai, India. The activists filed a petition to stop the indiscriminate premature felling of trees inside Aarey Colony till permissions have been obtained to construct metro car shed/metro station. (Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Socio-Cultural Factors

Another major stakeholder consists of the Adivasi communities, who are also an essential component of the forest ecosystem. The SRA that is proposed to house them lays bare the government’s poor understanding of the needs of its people. The SRAs, much like the detention centres in Assam, are nothing less than the state’s dumping ground of its ‘human waste’. Numerous protests by these communities have been ignored.

People from Adivasi communities from Aarey protesting the extension of the zoo. Image source-


In spite of the sheer number of cases that have been filed by the various stakeholders, the adamancy of the government to go forward with its decision is rather fearful. Dissenters tagging the government as being ‘neocolonialists’ hence stands justified. Several discrepancies have also surfaced surrounding the petitions filed in this matter. The most controversial of these is the fact that the National Green Tribunal (NGT), with whom the case was initially taken up, has after four years, declared that the case doesn’t come under its jurisdiction.

The meeting with the Tree Authority of the municipal corporation on August 29, 2019, had also not resulted in the desired outcomes. Out of the five experts in the panel, only two were present for the meeting, of which one could not follow Marathi. There was also a news report that the experts had voted in favour of the tree-felling without knowing what they were voting for, has come under ridicule. The Congress representatives reportedly staged a walkout during the meeting, the NCP representatives changed their stance at the last minute. In short, the meeting was a disaster and we can say that to a certain extent, it was even scripted.

People’s elected representatives, bureaucrats, ‘experts’, have once again proved themselves to be mere puppets in the hands of bigger political players. This, however, is a dangerous game. What is at stake here is the environment. In a fight where humans should not take sides, the state has chosen to back the wrong horse. In a bid to perhaps garner more accolades and appreciation uninformed celebrities are also fighting the wrong fight.

With electioneering in full swing in the state, the government ought not to have taken such drastic steps. The very fact that the government is involved in this unabashed display of environmental neglection shows the stubbornness of the BJP-led government. This is a wake-up call to all the uninformed followers of the autocrat.

As long as democracy lives, this idiocracy should be resisted. And resist we will!

Featured Image Source: Twitter
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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