Aarey: Is The Destruction Of This Forest The Beginning Of The End?

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“Nature doesn’t recognise good or bad, it only recognises balance and imbalance.”

It is obvious that the crisis we face today is well recognised as a man-made crisis in the sense that is the natural outcome of the terrible atrocities that powerful humans have committed against our own land. The traditional worldview that guided human life in all its aspects was replaced by so-called modern-technology.

The idea that unlimited physical comforts developed by the West, in the West, and thrust upon the rest of the world, developed into new theory and ideology known as developmentalism. On the 150th birth anniversary of our Mahatma, a Chipko Movement was almost seen at the soon-to-be metro car-shed site, Aarey. The Chipko Movement was based on the Gandhian philosophy of peaceful resistance (hugging the trees) to protect the trees from the wood-cutters.

In hindsight of the first decade of the 21st century, the devastating nature of contemporary civilisation is clear to us. Humans here view the earth as a place to to dominate and control, and manipulate nature using science and technology. The recent progress of building a metro car-shed at the Aarey forest site which is located on the banks of the river Mithi, seems to be punching a hole in Mumbai’s green lungs. Railway car-sheds fall into Red Category Industries which cause the highest level of pollution.

Grease, oil, acids, and paints will be discharged into the nearby Mithi. Probable chances of groundwater pollution cannot be ignored, as this Aarey depot plot is the sole surviving natural flood plain of Mithi and home to many species of trees and other creatures.

Comparing Mumbai with other major cities of the world, antagonists claim that Mumbai’s 90 lakh trees (55 lakh in the national park itself) are more in ratio, i.e. 7,800 trees per square kilometres, than Tokyo, New York, and London. The upcoming metro will reduce lakhs of vehicles thus improving the air quality which around two crore trees would have done.

Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) claims that only 17% of the forest area would be used which has around 60% non-native and exotic trees which can be replaced reducing the overall carbon footprint. The fact to be noted here is that 7 days of metro operation is projected to cut carbon-dioxide equivalent to that absorbed by 2700 trees in a year. As truly said by someone, “nature doesn’t recognise good or bad, it only recognises balance and imbalance.”

Gandhi warns in his first book Hind Swaraj that as modern civilisation functions on the basis of an instrumental view of physical nature and human beings, it will turn out to be a nine-day-wonder or even take humanity to its doom, unless checked and corrected. The denouement in Aarey is still unsatisfying. Forthcoming projects in the pipeline should consider trees from day zero of project planning itself and not in the construction stage so that the impact of construction is less on the trees and more benefits can be enjoyed cheek-by-jowl post-construction.

The involvement of arboriculturists should be made as mandatory pre-requisite and standards for the Root Protection Area of the trees should be set as construction in these areas will be a constraint below ground surface for root growth.

Nevertheless, development at any cost has become the motto of modern civilisation. It is not without a reason that Gandhi called it a nine-day-wonder. He strongly advocates the ‘green thought’ in our day to day life as well as an economy and developmental model based on natural order to save ourselves from the catastrophe. Truly as said by an Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted like trees.”

About the author: Rais I. Shaikh is an Associate Academician at IAS Coaching and Guidance Cell of Haj Committee of India, Mumbai.

Featured image source: Aarey Forest; Mehul Bhanushali/Facebook.
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