Breathing Fire, Mumbaikars urge a callous Tree Authority to save its Forest: Aarey

Written by Aditya paul | Published on: July 9, 2019

Braving a torrential downpour and despite the inadequate notice (people’s hearing) and the day being a working, yesterday, Monday 500+ Mumbaikars turned up for the public hearing (jansuvahi) called by the Tree Authority to hear objections to the felling of 2702 trees for a Metro Shed atAarey. A key and vocal segment of objectors were Adivasi women residents of Aarey.

Aarey bachao 

The hearing was presided over by the Tree officer of the Tree Authority who started the meeting by acknowledging the receipt of 82,000 email objections by citizens, a number activists say is a record high for the Tree Authority.
The key demand of attendees was that the BMC deny permission for cutting of any more trees at Aarey and protect its fragile ecosystem. Adivasi residents pointed out that the forest was both their heritage and their way of life stating they would not accept being pushed into SRA schemes.

"We have taken care of our trees as if they were our children," stated Asha Bhoye. “Have you ever planted a tree in your life?”

Another refrain was that Aarey is a forest that deserves protection, a statement that gains importance in the face of AshwiniBhide, MD, MMRCL's tweets claiming the green zone was not a forest.

"I was attacked outside my house by a leopard," stated on Adivasi woman. "Aarey has 77 species of Birds, 34 species of Wildflowers, 86 species of Butterflies, 13 other Amphibian species, 46 Reptile species, and last but not the least, 9 Leopards!" said a young activist.

Anger against MMRCL's high handedness manifested itself when members of the public realised that their representatives were seated on the dais with the members of the Tree Authority.
"Under what provision of the what act or rules is the MMRCL, a vested interest allowed to have its members on the dais? Why can't they be intimidated about the hearing in the same way as the common public," stated Ruben Mascarenhas from AamAadmi Party & litigant in the case under which the HC ordered for this public hearing.

Another litigant in the same case Preeti Sharma Menon of AamAadmi party asked how the Tree Authority could hold the hearing considering the HC has stayed its functioning.Activists pointed out that not only would trees be cut but the Metro Shed itself would use ground water to clean rakes etc thus depleting the water table, destroying the larger forest around it.
ZoruBathena who was the first citizen to speak urged the Tree Authority to finally deny permissions based on the power vested in them.Others pointed out that further concretisation of the city would lead to further flooding & water woes.

"Aarey forest is in the flood plain of the Mithiriver, damage to this sensitive zone will lead to further chaos and flooding." Said Amrita Bhatacharjee of the Aarey Conservation Group.