Mumbai: In the battle between environmentalists and development authorities, the tribals of Aarey Milk Colony suffer in solitude. While environment lovers fight against all odds to save and balance the ecosystem in a concrete jungle of Mumbai, and while the development authorities carry out rampant urbanisation in the name of progress, tribals are fast losing their home and hearth. Since last week, the green lung and its adversities have been in the spotlight following protests from environmental activists and tree lovers against the cutting of around 444 trees. Another proposal to axe 2,702 trees is also in the pipeline.
Activists have been fighting a legal battle against the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) for years to oppose the proposed car shed that will eat into a sizeable portion of the natural forest area. However, the numbers of those in support of saving the precious forest cover have grown, with more than 5,000 objections already been filed against the felling of the proposed 2,702 trees.
However, the tribals feel none of this is helping them. “City people want the forest and the animals but not us, the tribals who have been living here much before it was even declared a national park,” said Neelima Bujad, a member of the Warli community and an Aarey Colony resident, adding, “And, the administration was not even aware of the existence of so many tribals in the city until we organised a protest march at Azad Maidan a few years ago.”
Nowhere else in the world do around 20 million people share a city with over 40 wild leopards. Few would believe that a megacity like Mumbai can have over four lakh adivasis or indigenous people who live side-by-side with high-rises and malls. As far as Aarey Colony is concerned, there are currently over 10,000 Adivasis residing in 27 different padas (hamlets) here at this very moment. Prakash Bhoir, another Aarey resident living in Ketli Pada, said they have no say in either the development projects or losing their hinterland.
“No one even asks our opinion about development, in this case, a metro carshed, in our own surroundings. Even if we lose our land, we have to keep quiet. A week ago, some inhabitants’ houses were pulled down and all they could do was run for cover,” Bhoir said. “The government doesn’t accept us as Mumbaikars but adivasis who don’t want development. We have been asking for electricity for years and we haven’t had any. Who is opposing development?” he asks.
According to the Development Plan 2034, 33 hectares of Aarey Colony have been earmarked for the carshed. The shed is part of the underground 33.5-km Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor that will intersect the existing Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar line. Now, the tribals who have lived in close harmony with nature and preserved the city’s thriving jungle for centuries, find themselves at the receiving end from a society that is pushing for modernity and progress.