A breakdown of the Aarey Forest conservation movement of Mumbai, in light of the current global climate crisis.

The Aarey Colony protests began on 5th October 2019, after the Bombay High Court (HC) allowed the Mumbai Metro to
cut nearly 2,500 trees to build a car shed for the new Mumbai Metro constructions in the vicinity. The HC’s move was in line with
a fine technicality that the Aarey Forest was not really a forest after all, but it was merely an urban cluster and hence it could
be felled for the purpose of establishing the Metro infrastructure. This move was met with severe backlash, as Mumbaikars
and green activists around the country opposed the felling of 2,500 trees that gave the much-needed respite from pollution
and heat to the residents of the colony.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) began to cut down trees in the area merely hours after the HC order, at odd hours of night in another move that faced resistance from citizens and environmental activists. The Mumbai police arrested close to 29 people on the charges of allegedly obstructing and assaulting police personnel at this protest. Many people, including several celebrities, took to social media to express their support with the activists protesting in the Aarey Colony. After these events, a special hearing on the matter was scheduled with the Supreme Court (SC) and, as a result, Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was implemented in Aarey Colony. Although lifted for the hearing, the section was later reimposed after the hearing.

The Apex Court, this past week, restrained authorities from cutting any more trees in Mumbai’s Aarey. A special bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Ashok Bhushan said that it would have to examine the entire matter closely, and it extended the date of the next hearing to 21st October, which would take place before its forest bench. The court also ordered the Mumbai Police to release all the activists who were arrested in the past two days.

The SC recorded an undertaking by the Maharashtra State Government, where it was assured that no more trees would be felled in Aarey. The SC observed that “…it appears that Aarey was some kind of forest at some time,” taking note of the 2012 Management Plan for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which describes Aarey as an unclassified forest.

The Court further lashed at the Maharashtra State Government,  “Tell us how many saplings you planted? How have they grown? What’s the status of your forests?” The Apex Court’s question came after the Mumbai Metro claimed that it had planted around 24,000 saplings to replace the trees it had cut in Aarey. The court asked the state authorities to also produce a mandatory afforestation report.

Rishav Ranjan — the law student whose letter to the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, was converted into a suo motu writ petition for the matter — has requested MMRCL Managing Director, Ashwini Bhide, to desist from any construction work in the area until the next SC hearing on 21st October.

Complex climate change situations necessitate nuanced interventions. However, for the most part, India has resorted to afforestation without consulting local communities or conducting serious impact assessment studies. In light of the latest global climate crisis, a Global Climate Risk Index released at the Katowice summit in Katowice, Poland, in 2018 showed that intense cyclones, excessive rainfall, and severe floods could make India and its neighbours among the worst affected countries in the world. This leads to the conclusion that afforestation is not enough. The
effects of climate change in tandem with the development agenda require a two-pronged, well-researched, and balanced
approach that needs to be initiated by the governments at grass-root levels.

Featured Image Credits: India Times

Bhavya Pandey
[email protected]

The rhetoric of development has always been used as a method to lure people. The cost of this kind of development has always been borne by the marginalised and voiceless people, or the environment. In such a context consent becomes an important parameter if one really wants inclusive development. This open letter describes the plight when the rhetoric wins over the essence of development. 

Dear Development, 

I was in awe of you when they said you will improve my life. You would ease these sufferings and would take the “underdeveloped” in me to a “developed one”. I hoped to come out of this vicious cycle of poverty, as is what meant development to me. I expected to avail a better physical quality of life as that meant development. You were my ray of hope of becoming a human. They said you were good for me, and I simply agreed, because how does my consent matter any way. They know what is good for me. They know what is the best in the interest of development.

I have always aspired to become like the developed countries, as that is what a better life means. I was appealed to, by the common rhetoric of development. Little did I know my cost for development had a bigger picture, vested interests, and a propaganda complementary with it. My development never took my consent. I am the trees of Aarey and I paid the cost of development. I am a slum dweller and I paid the cost of development. I am a native of Kashmir and I paid the cost of development. Only to realise that I had a flawed notion of development being inclusive, holistic and for my benefit and well-being.

That is when I realized the importance of Consent for Development. You can have growth, you can build those structures, but how will you build my inner self?

You came for me and made me a destitute in the name of development. This development was not my development. It was largely governed by the vested interests and the public opinion professed by the propaganda of development. 

You came for me because I was the easy, soft target, I was voiceless and lured by you, development. 

I never wanted this type of development to happen. I never wanted your parenting for my good. I never wanted your progress at the cost of my own. India is my country defined by secularism and democracy. India is my country flaunting those plush green forests. India is my country defined by religious tolerance. But my idea of India does not matter, because that is not what the consensus today says. Surely there was vikas, but not sabka saath. You cut me down, you shut me down, and you threw me out because you were going to make my life better. I am still waitingf for that day to come, if ever it does. 

Yours truly,

The cost of development.

Feature Image Credits: Greenbiz

Sriya Rane 

[email protected]