Mumbai’s Battle To Save Aarey Continues
Manish Gadia, founder of Save Aarey campaign, throws light on the tussle between the government and the people over proposed ‘development’ plans in Aarey Colony.
Photo Courtesy: Manish Gadia.
Aarey Milk Colony, Mumbai’s green lung of 3,000 acres, was once a part of present-day Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). This land parcel that belongs to the Dairy Development Board was carved out by independent India in 1949 to meet its cattle feed demands.
Over the years, Aarey has served as an important buffer zone to the city’s only national park. From purifying the polluted city air and restricting the effects of floods to providing refuge to dwindling urban wildlife populations, Aarey’s existence is crucial to our concrete city. While most of Mumbai has succumbed to real estate developers, Aarey, with its cattle sheds and farms, has remained a little green oasis.
However, off late Aarey has had to face the onslaught of land sharks and unorganized city development. Education institutions, golf courses, hotels, and petrol pumps have systematically been chipping away chunks of Aarey’s green legacy. New projects such as the contentious Metro Yard Shed, the widening of Aarey Colony road, and a proposed central park and zoo, all pose a threat to Aarey. Of the approximate 2000 acres that remains of this little wilderness, over 500 acres are threatened by the aforementioned projects.
In 2010, when 98 acres of forested land was given to the Force One Commando Base despite public concern, the need for a more organized movement to protect Aarey was felt. Consequently the Save Aarey movement was born. The movement picked up steam in September 2014, when 300 Mumbaikars participated in the biggest-ever Aarey cleanup drive, organized in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). At the event, environmentalists brought attention to the importance of securing Aarey, following which weekly meetings were held to gather volunteers. The movement now comprises people from all walks of life, including NGOs such as Vanashakti, Aarey tribals, Bollywood celebrities and common citizens.
More than 2,000 letters have been sent to both the state government of Maharashtra and the central government to draw attention towards the degradation of Aarey. Apart from a meeting with the Maharashtra Chief Minister, 50 other meetings with government personnel have been organized over the past few years to seek their support. Over the past two years, the citizens of Mumbai have also hosted numerous Save Aarey events such as Cycling Tour De Aarey, ACG Aarey Mahotsav, Aarey Green Film Fest, Marine Drive Green Human Chain, Tree Appreciation walks, protest picnics, Twitter Diwas, Rakhi for Aarey and more. Yet the government refuses to officially protect Aarey and its wild inhabitants.
Photo Courtesy: Manish Gadia.
Relocation of Metro Yard:
The Save Aarey movement understands the necessity of mass transport systems, such as the metro, in a city as vast as Mumbai. The movement therefore simply advocates that the planned metro yard be relocated from Aarey to another site such as Kanjurmarg, Kalina, MMRDA BKC plot or land owned by the Mumbai Port Trust. However, authorities including the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development authority (MMRDA) remain intent on confirming Aarey as the final location for the yard, disregarding the horrendous prospect and impact of cutting down thousands of trees in an already polluted city.
A Zoo in a Forest:
Aarey, a natural forest, is home to over 100 species of birds, 75 species of butterflies, 38 types of reptiles, countless wild leopards and other mammals. The idea of allocating a major part of Aarey to a zoo and housing caged animals is absurd, and has been criticized by environmental activists and locals alike. A zoo furthermore will open doors to various other commercial establishments.
No to Central Park:
Rather than changing the entire landscape of Aarey to create Central Park, an artificial garden, developing nature trails, nature centres, cycling tracks, and hiking zones in Aarey’s natural surroundings would be far more viable and less intrusive.
Photo Courtesy: Manish Gadia.
When the MCGM, comes up with Development Plans (DP) for Mumbai it invites suggestions and comments from the general public. When the proposal to ‘develop’ Aarey was released, the public submitted hundreds of suggestions urging the government to withdraw the proposal. Several rounds of public hearing also took place, in which these sentiments were reiterated. Vanashakti had filed a PIL and later a case in the National Green Tribunal to have Aarey declared an Eco Sensitive Zone. While this could have proved pivotal in saving Aarey, the final notification declaring Aarey an Eco Sensitive Zone was disappointing. Along with sloppy loopholes that the government could use to its advantage for potential construction activities, the notification also conveniently glossed over the dangers of the proposed Metro Shed project.
Development is not just the creation of concrete infrastructure. It also involves protecting the green infrastructure on which we all depend. The government has once again invited suggestions on land use plans in Aarey in terms of infrastructural projects. Join the members of Save Aarey and request the government to leave Aarey as the wild oasis that it is. Send your letter to the following address:
Office of the Metropolitan Commissioner,
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority,
Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East,
Office of Deputy Director of Town Planning,
ENSA Hutments, E-Block,
Azad Maidan, Mahapalika Marg,
Office of Chief Engineer (Development Plan),
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai,
Manish Gadia is a wildlife photographer and founder of the "Save Aarey Movement". He spends most weekends in Aarey for fitness related activities and bird watching. He can be contacted at