The Aarey forest protests, perfectly mirror the conflict between nature, modernisation and capitalism.
Mumbai’s Aarey colony is home to over 27 Adivasi villages and animal species. The issue surfaced when the Tree Authority gave permission to Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) to cut 2700 trees to build a car shed for the metro. Vanshakti, an NGO, had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court to declare the said area as “Reserved Forest” or “Protected Forest”. The residents and environmental activists have been opposing the proposed cutting.
The division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre of the Bombay High Court on Friday dismissed all petitions and PILs challenging the Tree Authority’s decision to cut 2646 trees at Aarey. The bench was considering the issue of cutting the 2646 trees for a metro car shed project and ‘whether Aarey is a forest or not’.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was imposed in Aarey, on Saturday, restricting movements and gathering of groups. The police had earlier detained over 60 people and arrested 29 from the lot. Even leaders like Priyanka Chaturvedi were detained. Over 38 protesters were booked under various IPC sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from duty) and 143 (unlawful assembly).
Saying that Aarey is not a forest and hence can be cut down, Prakash Javdekar said that “Trees had to be cut for Delhi Metro also and it was opposed by activists even then. But for each tree cut, five saplings were planted. All have become trees in 15 years. Delhi’s jungle cover has increased and public transport for 30 lakh people was arranged. This is the mantra of ‘vikas bhi, paryavaran ki suraksha bhi’ (sustainable development).”
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the government did not intend to cut a single tree, but development is also important. “We will plant more trees to replace those cut-down,” he said.
But, Aditya Thackeray questioned the steps of the government putting into perspective our stance on climate change. “Detaining citizens and arresting youth for standing with environment. So much for speaking about environment at global level while we destroy ecosystems here in the middle of the night”, he said.
One such protestor spoke about how sister had to go through this.
“My sister and best friend were arrested last night during the #Aarey Protests. They were manhandled and have been charged with a non-bailable offence. Citizens with a voice being treated like criminals. Videos floating in of random arrests being made to spread fear”, said Shreya Nair.
The matter is scheduled for hearing before the National Green Tribunal on October 10. The fear resonating is that all the cutting would be carried out before that.
Climate change is happening, and we are hand in glove with modernisation. What needs to be assessed here is the cost we are ready to pay for this travel of convenience. Are we sure that this development won’t eat up our forest cover? With our resources depleting with each passing year, it is time to evaluate the choices we want to make in a bid to become ‘developed’.
It is well summed up by the words of Justice Nandrajog in the HC order. “Don’t cut so many trees that our future generations don’t know what a tree is. We will have to show them photographs of trees and say, look, this is a tree! Or, they will see trees painted on the metro trains.”
Image source: Twitter