July 8, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the Aarey metro car shed controversy currently gripping Maharashtra. We also look at Bihar’s attempts to improve air connectivity, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Deconstructing the Aarey Metro Car Shed Controversy
The drama doesn’t simply stick to the screens in Mumbai. After all the political turmoil that resulted in Eknath Shinde taking over as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the spotlight’s been fixed on the Mumbai Metro car shed. It also doesn’t help that this controversial issue was brought up right after the new government took office on 30 June.
While the former Uddhav Thackeray government shifted the location of the Metro car shed to the salt pan of Kanjurmarg, the Shinde government wants it back at Aarey. The problem is that what seems like a politically petty plan could adversely affect generations of Mumbaikars.
The people of Mumbai are back to threatening protests, petitions and loads of paperwork. Let’s see if the government pays any heed this time.
The Metro car shed at Aarey has been a contentious issue since 2014. As it turns out, the Aarey colony of Mumbai is of great environmental importance, often even called the “city’s lungs”. These 13,000 hectares are home to more than 27 Adivasi villages and several species of animals, 5 of which are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In 2014, the BJP-led Maharashtra government proposed to build a car shed for the 33.5 km underground Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro project at Aarey Milk Colony. It’s important to note that Devendra Fadnavis was the CM back then, and now, he is the Deputy CM. Then, in 2016, certain areas of Aarey were declared an eco-sensitive zone, and things simply worsened.
In October 2019, Fadnavis was still in office when the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) cut down over 2,000 trees in the Aarey area to work on the shed. Obviously, the already peeved-off people got even angrier and took to the streets to display their discontent. This included several petitions contesting the project sent to the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
Responding to the people’s will, the Thackeray government showed up with massive changes to the project proposal in 2020. They wanted to move the car shed to the marshy salt pan of Kanjurmarg. The new government also said they would declare 800 acres of Aarey a reserved forest. But there were issues with ownership over that move.
At first, the Centre approached the High Court and laid its claim on the salt pan. Something Eknath Shinde, current Maharashtra CM, was against as it went against the public interest. But besides that, certain private entities also claimed the land at Kanjurmarg, and the shed never really got built. This brings us to the present day, the Thackerays are out, Shinde is in, and Aarey seems to be back on people’s news feeds.
VIEW: The need to ‘Save Aarey’
When the trees were cut down for the car shed in 2019, people were pretty quick to launch the “Save Aarey Campaign”, and there’s good reason for that too. From the environmental perspective, the area has a lot to offer and needs conservation. It isn’t just about the trees that will perish for a glimpse of developments. Aarey also makes up the catchment area for the Mithi river. According to Amrita Bhattacharjee of the Aarey Conservation Group, redirecting the streams in Aarey to get them to flow into the sea will simply not work.
While the Thackeray government did try to declare 800 acres of the land a reserved forest, the final notification for the same was never issued. Starting up developmental projects in the region will now hurt the chances of Aarey ever becoming a spot for conservation. This is extremely worrying as the area houses around 1,100 species of flora and fauna. Of course, everyone knows about the leopards in Aarey, but the project’s specific location is a breeding site for the Indian rock python. Both species are supposed to be protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Just like most other big projects, the threat of displacement looms large over the residents of Aarey. There are currently 27 tribal hamlets in Aarey, meaning that any major project will result in the forced migration of thousands of people. Due to the bit of construction work that has taken place, some people have already given up their lands and immigrated somewhere else. Clearly, the people are afraid, and most believe they are being taken advantage of. Some even say that this has set a dangerous precedent for the treatment of environmental issues in the future.
Considering Shinde’s prior support for this project to get shifted to the salt pan, this sudden change of heart points to a strange political motive. At this point, even Uddhav Thackeray thinks this is getting done simply to annoy him. “Don’t project anger for me on Mumbaikars… Don’t toy with the environment of Mumbai”, says Thackeray.
COUNTERVIEW: Kanjurmarg was always a no-go
In any project, logistics matter. In the case of the Aarey car shed, it is supposed to connect the Metro 3 line, something the city very much needs as it finally offers the much-awaited East-West connectivity. While work on the line started in 2011, with around 80% already completed, the car shed is an important terminal link that requires completion. The halted construction work alone is leaving the MMRCL with a daily loss of ₹4.30 crore. And the corporation has already spent more than ₹100 crores on the car shed.
But that isn’t it. The relocation of the shed is expected to result in a delay of around 4 more years. The soil consolidation, a critical and routine exercise needed for any developmental project, will take another two and a half years. The construction of tunnel extensions, elevated tracks, power supply, etc., should take a year and a half, and that’s only if they really push it. What’s worse is all of this is only possible if the whole process goes along smoothly, i.e. without rehabilitation, further environmental hiccups and court cases. The latter of which is clearly unavoidable.
As mentioned before, the state of Maharashtra, the Centre and some private entities have been fighting over the land in Kanjurmarg. When it came to the Centre, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) wrote to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary about why they shouldn’t take the land. The letter was dated 17 March 2022 and included a report drawn up by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) talking about the long-term maintenance issues with moving to Kanjurmarg. Then comes the private firm’s claim, which both the Centre and Maharashtra have deemed fraudulent.
Finally, we come to the urgency of the project. Last year, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) filed an application that called this car shed a “public project of urgency”. This was to get the stay on its construction due to the land rights issues removed by the High Court. Looking at Mumbai’s overcrowded trains, the urgency of the matter isn’t really up for debate. The government believes the faster they get it done, the better.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Mumbai Metro car shed should be built in Aarey.
b) The Mumbai Metro car shed should be built in Kanjurmarg.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Indian Democracy Is Marching Towards Authoritarianism, Under The Garb Of Pluralism
For the Left:
AAP, TMC’s National Ambitions Ignore India’s Stark Diversity. Southern Parties Know Better
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Free coaching for tribal students (Jammu & Kashmir) – The Jammu and Kashmir Tribal Affairs Department launched an initiative to provide free coaching for tribal students preparing for NEET and JEE. The department will bear the course fee. Students who qualify will be given scholarships. 100 students are being selected for NEET coaching in government-run institutions under the ‘Host-50’ for hostellers and ‘Top-50’ for other tribal students.
Why it matters: The Tribal Affairs Department launched the NEET/JEE coaching scheme to help improve education among tribal students in the state. The department has also notified a 50% quota for girls under the hostel category and 25% under the top-50 scheme for NEET. None of the coaching schemes has an income bar.
Praise for overcoming malnutrition (Andhra Pradesh) – NITI Aayog praised the state’s YSR Sampoorna Poshana initiative to combat malnutrition among pregnant women and children aged six to thirty-six months. A report from the Centre’s think tank stated the Andhra government had the best method of providing baby formula, milk, and eggs through the scheme. It has effectively used technology to solve distribution problems.
Why it matters: The scheme was launched in 2020 to benefit more than 30 lakh mothers and children. More than 52% of pregnant women in the state suffer from acute anaemia, while 31.9% have low birth weight. The scheme supplies nutritious food in 77 tribal areas covering more than 8,300 Anganwadi centres.
Air connectivity (Bihar) – Bihar has reached out to various airlines, tour operators, and the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) to increase air connectivity, both within and outside the state. The state has also asked the Centre to explore the possibility of low-cost international flights from Gaya to South-East Asian countries. They want development along the lines of the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik – Regional Connectivity Scheme (UDAN-RCS). The state will also activate smaller airports in Kishanganj and Valmikinagar, famous for their tiger reserve.
Why it matters: Airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet and helicopter operators like Pawan Hans have expressed interest in the state’s proposal. The state wants to develop air connectivity on the Gaya-Rajgir-Vaishali-Patna route, to tap international tourists. Foreign tourists’ footfall has increased in Bihar from 1.01 million in 2016 to 1.09 million in 2019. The state contributes 3.77% to the share of foreign tourists in India.
Expanding Deendayal Port (Gujarat) – India is seeking bids for an expansion project worth ₹6,000 crores of the Deendayal Port in Kandla, Gujarat. It’s the country’s largest port by volume of cargo handled. The expansion, through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), involves a new Mega-Container Terminal and a new Multi-purpose Cargo Berth. The port is being over-utilised in the handling of dry cargo.
Why it matters: Cargo traffic volumes dipped as the pandemic set in but saw a resurgence last year. With economic recovery comes increased cargo traffic. The expansion will increase the port’s cargo-handling capacity. It’ll also help it compete with the privately-owned Mundra Port in the state, India’s largest commercial port.
Examining captive elephants (Assam) – The Nagaon Forest Division has called for examining the microchips in all captive and domestic elephants under its jurisdiction. There are concerns about elephants being transported outside the state. The department has asked owners to bring the jumbos for an inspection. Those who fail to do so will face legal action, and the elephant might be seized.
Why it matters: There are allegations that captive elephants of Assam origin are being moved without permission. Officials have previously said elephants from the state are being smuggled to Gujarat with false documents and forged signatures. Last month, there were eight such cases. Even other states in the region like Arunachal Pradesh have been proactive in checking for any elephants being smuggled.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
73% – A new survey by CBRE South Asia Pvt Ltd showed that 73% of Indian companies are evaluating hybrid working arrangements as part of their future working model. Over the past couple of years, several organisations changed their working models as employees worked from home due to the pandemic.