In the first week of September Mumbai witnessed two contrasting incidents. On the one hand thousands of Mumbai citizens including environmentalists, a very large number of students and youths, many local residents of Aarey colony intensified their opposition to the Maharashtra government’s proposal to build a car shed for Metro railway in Aarey forest. On the other hand on 7th September Prime Minister Modi came to Mumbai to inaugurate 3 new Metro projects thus very arrogantly signaling that he cares two hoots about the protests by thousands of citizens for the protection of the environment of Mumbai.
Aarey forest is now in the heart of Mumbai city and extends from Borivali-Goregaon to Thane. Its area of over 3000 acres has already been reduced to 1300 acres due to handing over a large part of land for dairy development. Now the state government wants to build a car shed for a metro rail project by cutting 2700 trees.
According to environment experts “this large forest area is like the lungs of densely populated Mumbai”, which is extremely important to maintain ecological balance of the city. For the last 5 years concerned citizens have been waging their battle against the Maharashtra government’s plan to allocate a part of the forest for the metro project. The struggle intensified when on 29th August the Tree Authority, appointed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), suddenly gave its nod for cutting around 2700 trees for the project. Immediately after the public uproar against this decision, two independent experts resigned from the committee and declared to the press that they were not given complete information regarding cutting of trees. It also was revealed that 2 other independent experts had abstained from the meeting. This clearly exposed the fact that the Tree Authority meeting was just a farce to give a sense of “legitimacy” to the decision which had already been taken by the Maharashtra government.
These determined protests have forced the government into a damage control exercise. However, instead of accepting the demand, the government is as usual spreading lies by claiming that it is not feasible to shift the car shed to any other area of Mumbai as it will delay the project.
These protests have once again brought into question the capitalist development model which for short term gain completely disregards the permanent damage to the environment. There has been rampant cutting of trees in the name of development across the length and breadth of our country. The lust for profit has resulted in the destruction of thousands of hectares of forests. Even though since 1952 the country’s declared national policy is to bring 33% of India’s total geographical area under forest cover, the reality is completely opposite. According to the Forest Survey of India’s (FSI’s) State of Forest Report 2017, currently the forest cover stands at just 21.54%. Of this, a mere 2.99% is very dense forest (VDF) and 9.38% is moderately dense forest (MDF). According to data mapped by Global Forest Watch, an international monitoring body during 2001-18, India lost 16,744 sq. km of tree cover, of which more than half occurred during 2013-18.
More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the capitalist development model is not sustainable and is responsible for many natural calamities like floods, famines, droughts and so on. They are seeing that the capitalist development leads to the gain for a few while the price is paid by the masses, as we saw during the recent flooding of the city. Spark Team congratulates citizens of Mumbai for their determined struggle to defend the “lungs of Mumbai”.