A Bombay High Court bench of justices SC Dharamadhikari and PD Naik, on April 17, 2018, directed the petitioners who are opposing the construction of the proposed metro car shed in Aarey Colony area, to file an affidavit by April 24, 2018, citing official records and documents to support their claim that the Aarey Colony land, a prominent green lung of the city, was a protected ‘forest area’ and therefore, the state’s decision to change its usage for construction of the car shed, was illegal. The bench was hearing a petition filed by some activists from the city and some residents of the Aarey Colony area, located near suburban Goregaon.
The petitioners had alleged that the state government had illegally modified the draft Development Plan 2034 for Mumbai, to show that an area that was previously a green, no development zone in Aarey, as that reserved for the construction of a car shed, for the Colaba–Bandra-Seepz metro project. The 33.5-km-long line, after completion, will connect Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai to SEEPZ in the north-central. The petitioners had claimed that while the government had issued a circular, earmarking the land for the car shed, until earlier this year, the draft DP 2034 continued to show the said plot as a green area and a no-development zone. The state, however, had recently issued a notification to amend the draft DP, to change the use of the plot of land, as that reserved for the metro car shed, they said.
Importantly, the petitioners also submitted a host of replies to their RTI queries, along with Google Map images, to establish that the Aarey land had traditionally been maintained as an ecologically sensitive zone only. “The state changed the usage of about 25 hectares of the Aarey land to commercial use, to allow the construction of the car shed and other allied activities. However, the centre’s rules mandate that states cannot change the entire character of a forest land and at best, they can make minor changes. Therefore, the amendment to the DP must be set aside by the court,” said the petitioners’ advocate Janak Dwarkadas.
The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), however, told the high court that the apprehensions of residents and activists that the state was allowing the metro car shed to be constructed in Aarey Colony area in contravention of green norms, were unfounded. In an affidavit filed in the HC on the previous hearing, the MMRC had submitted that the said 25-hectare plot in Aarey Colony area, had never been recognised by the government as a protected forest area, or an eco-sensitive zone.
The bench, however, remarked that going by the government’s land records, it was apparent that there had always existed a tacit understanding that the Aarey Colony land was predominantly green and that efforts would be made by the state, to keep its character intact. “The state had given the impression in its earlier DPs that the Aarey area wasn’t to be disturbed, as it is being done as part of this proposed activity (construction of the car shed). However, the question is whether the RTI replies, Google images, and photos submitted by the petitioners, can be accepted as official records? The petitioners must put these on oath by way of an affidavit, if they want to rely upon the same,” the bench added. The bench will pass an order on the fate of the car shed, after the state government files a reply to the petitioner’s affidavit.