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Aarey and Metro Project – Facts vs Fiction

Aarey colony facts

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 42 lakhs deaths occur across the world every year as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution. Hence the clean and green transport is imperative for better health, economic growth, and well-being of the citizens.

Metro train as a means of transport is the tested option for India. But, at times, there is a conflict between environmental concerns and inevitable development project. The ongoing Aarey colony protest is also the similar kind of conflict. However, a massive misinformation campaign against the development project at Aarey has been launched by the vested interests.

What the Aarey colony protest is all about?

A metro car depot at Aarey colony, Mumbai has been proposed. Metro car depot is a facility where all metro trains can rest during non-working hours. It is in the car depot where the trains can be washed, cleaned, repaired and maintained. It is integral to development of metro line.

This car depot is part of the third metro line in Mumbai, also known as Mumbai Metro–3 project. But it has faced protests from people as there are concerns about felling of trees to build the said depot.

Is there a misinformation campaign?

Manufactured Opinion – The entire green belt is under threat.

Facts – Some of the activists and news reports keep using the term ‘Aarey Colony’ giving an impression that entire Aarey green cover is under threat. According to officials, the fact is that the land allotted for the metro car depot is only 2% of the total green belt of Aarey colony. The land was allotted following the due process of law which has been upheld by High Court and Supreme Court.

See the news report below to understand how the entire green cover under threat narrative has been manufactured.

 

Manufactured Opinion – Aarey colony is a forest.

Facts – Moreover, frequent use of the term ‘Aarey Forest’ to refer to the plot allotted to the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) is misleading. Aarey is a grazing land that belongs to Dairy Development Department of the state government. The affidavit filed by the forest authorities reveals that the land allotted for the metro car depot “has not been recognised and notified and/or identified and demarcated as forest land in any record”. An argument, Aarey is not the part of the national park, has also been asserted by forest authorities in subsequent cases. Importantly, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) also cleared the decks for the car depot.  But, an entire campaign with the hashtag #AareyForest has been run to create an impression that Aarey colony is a forest despite it being a grazing land.

Further, the land proposed for car depot is surrounded by 3 major arterial roads together carrying more than 1 lakh vehicles per day. Thus, it is not the case of a development project being undertaken for the first time in the area.

Manufactured Opinion – Proposed land for car depot at Aarey is a part of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Facts – Many times, it is also claimed that Aarey colony is a part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), also known as ‘Lung of the Mumbai’, and comes under the eco-sensitive zone of the SGNP. This misleading notion is created using the proximity of Aarey colony to SGNP. It is also argued that a government notification (which was actually only a proposal) declared proposed land for the car depot as part of SGNP.

However, the vested interests conceal the fact that the final notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forest does not include the MMRCL land or land proposed for the car depot either as forest or as an eco-sensitive zone.

Source: Ashwini Bhide, Managing Director, MMRCL

How feasible is the suggestion of alternative land for car depot?

Some of the ‘activists’ has insisted to relocate the metro depot to other location, especially Kanjur Marg. A ‘Technical Committee’ considered the other alternative sites to locate the metro car depot, including Kanjur Marg.

Due to existing disputes and litigations in the court, the Kanjur Marg could not be allotted. Land at Kanjurmarg is claimed by private landowners who have already obtained a stay in 1996. Moreover, it would have made project unviable due to delays and cost overruns wasting the hard-earned money of taxpayers. The Supreme Court of India has also settled the issue of the alternate site for the car depot.

What does Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study of MMRCL land at Aarey say?

As per the EIA study, there is no wildlife habitat in the car depot location. The land given to the MMRCL was with certain conditions to mitigate the impact on the environment such as – groundwater recharging arrangements, plantation of trees and their maintenance, no commercial use of the land allowed, an annual audit of plantation by third party and reports posted on the MMRCL website, etc.

It should be noted that the environmental benefits, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (measured in terms of amount of carbon-di-oxide) due to the Mumbai Metro-3 project, have been validated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

What is the true picture of Metro car depot at Aarey?

The car depot at Aarey is important for the third metro line, part of metro corridor at Mumbai. The corridor will connect important business, health, recreational centers along with major transport hubs. Once fully commissioned, the corridor will cater to 17 Lakh commuters daily. It will help in coping up with the deteriorating travel conditions on public transport and traffic congestion on roads reducing air pollution. Rise in carbon dioxide of 63,953 kg per year due to impacted trees at car depot itself will be compensated by 197 metro trips i.e. just 4 days of peak hour trips.

Mumbai city desperately needs enhancement of its rail-based public transport network. Suburban railways carry 80 lakh passengers per day and thus, highly stressed. Once metro network is commissioned, it would carry about 45 lakh people by 2031, thus providing for the future needs of the city too.

Knowing the truth is important for an informed opinion. Government has to balance the development to improve quality of life of citizens and ensuring minimal impact of environment.

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