Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief Praveen Pardeshi
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief Praveen Pardeshi
Photo by BL SONI

Mumbai: Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief Praveen Pardeshi on Monday defended the civic body's decision to fell over 2600 trees to build a metro car shed in suburban Aarey Colony, a prominent green lung, stressing that Mumbai had more trees than London, Tokyo or New York.

Speaking at a town hall at the SNDT University here, Pardeshi also brushed aside suggestions by activists to shift the proposed car shed to suburban Kanjurmarg, arguing that the cost of acquiring and developing this plot was very high.

He went on to say that "collective pressure" of a section of people was holding back metro plans. Among those who attended the town hall were Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) Managing Director Ashwini Bhide, environmental activists like Stalin D of NGO Vanashakti.

"Mumbai has the least space to develop at present. All of Mumbai lives in 29.99 per cent area. Whatever is happening in metro today is your collective pressure," Pardeshi claimed.

While activists have routinely contended that infrastructure development by cutting trees and gobbling up open spaces was leading to floods in the city, Pardeshi retorted, "Is the car depot (at Aarey) up already? If not, then why floods are there?"

"Regarding the Kanjurmarg land (as an alternative to the Aarey site), Rs 750 crore is (needed) for development of land while Rs 5000 crore is the cost for acquiring land," he added.

Defending the plan to cut trees for the car shed, the BMC chief said, "Mumbai has a higher number of trees compared to other cities, be it London, Tokyo or New York."

Speaking at the event, MMRC MD Bhide said Aarey was spread over 1,287 hectares and the metro body planned to use only 30 hectares of it to build the car shed.

"Out of this 30 hectares, about five hectares will be retained as green cover. The city desperately needs its modes of transport to free it from traffic congestion and pollution.

There are limitations on shifting the car shed," she said. Activist Stalin D, however, alleged that the civic and state government authorities had changed Aarey land reservations to suit themselves.

"Aarey is a no development zone but the state government changed the reservation to suit them," he alleged, adding that more projects like an RTO vehicle testing track and zoo were proposed in the area, among the city's prime green lungs.

Incidentally, while hearing a bunch of petitions on Monday on the cutting of trees for the metro car shed, a bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre of the Bombay High Court said there was need to "contrast and compare" environment and development as both are required.

"We need both environment and development. Hence, we need to contrast and compare the two. The world over, scientists and ecologists are researching the issue of how to value environmental loss," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.

"Can monetary value be placed on environmental degradation? What is the economical value to environmental loss? We need to see that," the court said.

Separately, Union minister Nitin Gadkari has warned that usage charges of the Metro lines will go up if the civil society keeps on protesting against the project for cutting trees in the Aarey Milk Colony.

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

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Free Press Journal