A fire broke out in the thickets of Aarey forest adjacent to the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) grounds on Friday afternoon. The flames emerged around 12.30 pm following which the adjoining areas of Aarey were covered in a thick blanket of smoke.
This is the fifth fire incident being reported from the thickets of Aarey in February. There was no report of casualty or injury in the incident. Local residents and environment activists have alleged a foul play in the fire incident.
Officials of Mumbai Fire Brigade maintained that it was a normal fire which was doused within an hour.
Local resident Sandeep Athalaye stated, after the lockdown the fire incidents in Aarey area got intensified.
"I don't see a good intention behind the fire and this is happening frequently after the lockdown, we have lodged complaints about the incident to the administration a number of times," Athalaye told FPJ.
Stalin Dayanand - environmentalist and director of NGO - Vanashakti claimed, setting the grasslands on fire are attempts of encroachers and tribals to establish their own settlements.
"After the state government announced that parts of Aarey will be marked as reserved forest, encroachers and tribals are burning grasslands to set up agricultural fields, so they can claim alternate housing or compensation from the government," Stalin told FPJ.
Furthermore he stated, similar thing has happened near the grasslands adjacent to the VIP guest house in Aarey.
"In the past one year encroachers have set up agricultural fields by destroying grasslands over there, now that the government has announced the area to be acknowledged as a reserved forest, they will be demanding alternate housing and compensation in return," Stalin added. He also mentioned that he has written about the issue to the Chief Minister's Office, however the administration has not taken any action yet.
"When there is a fire we all can see the flames and smoke but till date not a single step has been taken, which means somebody is playing a blind eye to the issue," environmentalist Zoru Bhathena told FPJ. After the fire intensified on Friday, Bhathena took to his social media urging the administration for a quick response.
"The administration should take a step and find out who is doing it and why it is being done, because this has become a regular affair now," added Bhathena.