As greens see red on Aarey, Gadkari warns of higher Metro cost

Mumbai: Union minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday warned usage charges of the Metro lines will go up if the civil society keeps on protesting against the project for cutting trees in suburban Aarey Milk Colony.

The minister of road transport and highways said it is crucial to have a "balanced" approach which takes on board environmental concerns and also developmental needs.

The comments come amid expanding protests by civil society groups against the felling of 2,700 trees in Aarey, widely considered as the green lung of the financial capital.

Earlier this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) gave its nod to cut these trees for setting up a Metro car shed in the leafy colony.

Gadkari, a former public works department minister in Maharashtra, cited his experience with the Bandra-Worli Sea Link to drive home the point of cost escalations and said users are bearing the pain of higher toll charges now.

"Capital cost of a project is very important. I appeal not to cause losses to Mumbai," he told reporters here, replying to a specific question about the public protests against the Aarey move.

He, however, declined to add more on the same warning, saying the signalling done by the statement should be enough for the thinking mind.

It can be noted that civic commissioner Praveen Pardeshi has said that shifting of the Metro car shed, for which the trees are to be felled at Aarey, to the alternative site of Kanjurmarg will result in an additional cost of Rs 5,000 crore.

In the context of the sea link, Gadkari said all the fears of the protesters, including marine life being impacted and the submergence of the memorials devoted to Babasaheb Ambedkar and V D Savarkar located along the coastline, turned out to be unfounded.

However, as the project got delayed, there was an escalation in costs, he said, pointing out that it took Rs 1,800 crore to build the cable-stayed sea bridge as against Rs 420 crore planned initially.

Gadkari said a person can be punished by making him/ her plant 10 trees for every tree that is cut.

On the raging Aarey row, the Union minister said one has to maintain a "balanced" outlook and claimed that having this will generate more jobs, faster development and also ensure protection of the environment.

The decision of cutting trees is taken only when there are no alternatives available, he maintained.

Gadkari said Maharashtra's green cover has gone up in the recent years, courtesy a massive tree plantation drive organised by Forests Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis every year.

He said the state has been allotted up to Rs 13,000 crore of a fund to plant trees.

Gadkari said there is a need to shift to bio-fuels, and added that he is targeting to turn six districts in the Vidarbha region "diesel-free" in the next five years.

As per the plan, such vehicles there will fully run on bio-fuels, said the Lok Sabha MP from Nagpur in Vidarbha.

He, however, refuted reports of there being a move to ban the diesel and petrol-consuming internal combustion engines, given the policy thrust on electric vehicles.

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