Mumbai loses its only social forestry project to Metro
Mumbai loses its only social forestry project to Metro
Ateeq Shaikh

Mumbai's only plot meant for social forestry - Smriti Van - is where the car depot for Metro-2 (Dahisar-Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd) will come up.

The locals and an elected representative had objected to the construction of a car depot at Mankhurd, where already cremation and cemetery facilities exist apart from trees. For the Mumbai, Metro will take over the social forestry plot spread over 55.5 acres, meant for plantation to improve air quality levels in the eastern suburbs. Along with this, the land reserved for the correction facility will also be taken up.

Back in 2013, Shiv Sena’s elected a representative from this area and the then BMC Standing Committee’s Chairman and the current Member of Parliament Rahul Shewale had made the announcement of ‘first-of-its-kind’ social forestry project meant for the lower-income groups and the urban poor. Under the project, public amenities such as green cover, playground, crèches, public conveniences, water recycling to create water ponds and lagoons, solid waste recycling pits, etc were to come up and a token provision of Rs 1 crore was also earmarked for the first phase of the project.

Residents of Cheetah Camp area, next to where the car depot is planned, are a disappointed lot as neither the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) nor the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is being transparent on the project.

“Interestingly, the Uddhav Thackeray-led government and the chairman of MMRDA that has decided in favour of protection of environment in the case of Aarey Milk Colony regarding the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ metro rail car depot, is turning a blind eye to this,” said Mr Farid Hussein from the AIM Trust and a local.

“If a metro rail and car depot is meant for a larger public good, so are cemetery, cremation area, correction facility and the social forestry project. Why is the BMC not pressing for such fundamental prerequisites?,” asked Mr Shahnawaz Shaikh, Municipal Councillor from Cheetah Camp.

“We have already allotted an alternate land in the vicinity as per the requirements brought forward to us by the authorities to have a correction facility. For the cremation ground and cemetery, we are in dialogue with the civic officials. The plan is to redevelop this crucial facility,” said Mr B G Pawar, Joint Metropolitan Commissioner, MMRDA.

To this, Mr Hussein, raised a question that with a population only increasing, should the government augment capacity for cremation and cemetery or shrink it further? During the peak of the Covid-19, we felt the need for increasing the capacity instead of reducing the same.

When we tried to reach out to the officials from BMC's Health Department, they were either not updated with the subject or were unavailable for comment.

On the social forestry part, Mr Pawar clarified that when the MMRDA received the plot, nowhere in the land records was there mention of ‘social forestry’, it was an undisputed land. Hence, the question of providing an alternative does not arise.

A look at the land records from 1994 and 2015 shows a mention of social forestry with respect to the plot in question.

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