Amidst protests from activists and residents over its proposal to build a metro car shed in Aarey Colony, the Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court, on June 15, 2018 that the construction work had been approved in consonance with all statutory and environmental rules. The proposed car shed at Aarey, a green belt in suburban Goregaon, is part of the Mumbai Metro rail project.
Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told a bench of justices SC Dharmadhikari and PD Naik that contrary to the allegations, the site of the proposed car shed was not part of any reserved forest area or ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ). The state government’s top law officer also told the bench that the car shed project had been vetted by the state assembly and that it ‘wasn’t any ordinary bus stop’, whose location could be shifted or changed whenever required. “The car shed needs to be aligned with the metro rail tracks and the location was fixed, after much thought and research,” he said.
The construction work of the car shed had been approved, in accordance with all statutory and environmental rules, the advocate general said. Kumbhakoni was responding to a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhatena and others, alleging that the Maharashtra government had illegally modified the draft Development Plan 2034 for Mumbai, to show what was previously a green zone, as that reserved for a car shed for the metro rail project. The bench reserved its judgement on the plea.
The area in contention is about 25 hectares of a plot in the Aarey Milk Colony that has been allocated by the state, for the construction of a car shed and allied services for the Mumbai Metro 3 (Colaba–Bandra-SEEPZ) line. The petitioners have claimed that earlier, the said plot was reserved as a ‘no development zone’ and that any construction in the area, is likely to destroy extensive green cover and cause much ecological damage.
Both Kumbhakoni and senior advocate Aspi Chinoy, who appeared for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), told the HC that while Aarey is in the vicinity of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and is ecologically rich, it has never been formally marked as an ESZ or a no development zone. Chinoy told the HC that in December 2016, while notifying some area around the national park, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had ‘excluded an area of 165 hectares’ and that the car shed plot was part of this excluded area.
The state and MMRC went on to argue how the metro project, which is under construction, is likely to ease the traffic and commuting woes in the city. The bench, however, said the issue at hand wasn’t the merit of the metro project. “It is not in dispute that the project is meant for public welfare. However, there is no denying that the ongoing construction work has added to the woes of the public commuting on the city’s roads,” the bench said. “However, this bench is to decide whether or not any ecological rules were flouted while allotting the said land for the car shed project,” the judges said.