After tree cutting was reported in Aarey, Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray on Friday asked the authorities to issue a ‘stop work’ notice immediately, later saying it was some old tendered work.
According to Aarey locals, as many as ten trees, each 25 feet long, were cut on Friday. Adivasis and other indigenous dwellers in the forest were taken aback by the sound of JCB machines and tree cutters early in the morning. Inhabitants of Plot No. 26 learnt that forest department officials had visited the spot and trees were being chopped. They immediately protested and forced the workers to stop.
Aaditya's intervention came after AAP leaders Preeti Sharma Menon and Ruben Mascarenhas accused the state government of cutting trees in Aarey for the construction of a boundary wall for the zoo.
“Received some photos of some old work tendered earlier, happening now in Aarey for a proposed concrete wall. I have asked authorities to issue ‘stop work’ notice immediately and sought a report on the same,’’ Aaditya tweeted.
AAP has released some papers to substantiate its claims. Its move comes days after the state government issued a notification declaring 808 acres of land as reserved forest in Aarey. Besides, the state government had also announced its decision to shift the Metro 3 carshed to Kanjurmarg from Aarey Colony. The government also withdrew offences registered against the green activists who had protested the cutting of 2,185 trees in October last year, to clear space for the construction of the carshed.
Earlier, AAP activist Mascarenhas had strongly objected to the felling of trees and clearance of land at Aarey for the proposed zoo. “The felling of trees is for the proposed zoo, on the basis of a work order which is prima facie an ‘expired work order’ which has been accessed by AAP,’’ said Mascarenhas.
He further said, “It is plain foolish to destroy a forest to build a zoo. Globally, zoos are an obsolete concept, which is cruelty to animals too. Aarey is contiguous with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and it makes absolutely no sense to build a zoo, within an existing habitat rich in biodiversity.’’
AAP leader Preeti Sharma Menon demanded that the state government should stop all work immediately and withdraw its proposal for a zoo.
However, a state forest department official said the BJP-led government had proposed the development of an international standard zoo in Aarey and in October 2019, had approved a grant of Rs 60 lakh for the conservation wall of the zoo. “However, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government has cancelled the development of a zoo in Aarey even before handing over the 190 acres of land. The project stands cancelled. As per Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray’s directive, the department will issue a stop work order,’’ he noted.
The local community leader of the Adivasis, Ishwar Mahale told The Free Press Journal. "The forest department hasn't issued us any summons or notice regarding the carrying out construction work in our area. The trees being cut stood on our lands and we have valid paperwork to support our claim,"
Mahale said the officials had come to extend an already constructed wall erected as a boundary for a proposed zoo in the Aarey area. But, he noted, there was evident lack of coordination among the Aarey and forest authorities as the work order for this job had already been revoked.
"The officials from forest department said they had no information regarding the project being stalled. We had to call officers from the Aarey department to convince them to stop," Mahale said.
Locals informed that as many as ten, 25-foot long trees were cut on Friday morning. Most of these Adivasis work on agricultural fields inside the Aarey forest and have said hat extending the constructed boundary wall will harm the crops in the fields, as autumn and winter is generally harvest time.
"We have submitted documents proving our ownership of these lands to the local collector. We have been residing here for more than 70 years now and the officials assured that we won't be evicted from here" said another local.
Citizen activist and environmentalist, Aparna Bangia, who was present at the spot on Friday morning, said the government agencies had no legal right to take over the land or start construction work on the site. "The adivasis are the sole owners of these lands, they have valid paperwork. Any move to evict them would be illegal," Bangia told this paper.ReplyForward