There is good news for Mumbaikars - the official map of Aarey forest is out, making Mumbai the first megacity in the world to have a protected forest in its midst.
This Phase 1 map depicts in green areas which come under the jurisdiction of the forest department and those areas that are with the dairy department in white. Once this jurisdiction is normalised, the next step will be Phase 2 of the forest declaration.
D Stalin, director of the NGO Vanashakti, environmentalist and one of the Save Aarey movement leaders, said, “The state government declaring around 800 acres of land as forest in the most sought-after real estate in the country, is truly commendable. They have taken the correct step by identifying it in phases because it would be an impossible task to complete in one go as people will start filing claims and cases. So, the good thing they have done is to identify non-occupied areas and declare them as forest first. In the next phase, there will be a hearing for people who have occupied the land, whether legally or illegally. If they are tribals, they will be allowed to remain, but if they are encroachers, then they will be evicted.”
“But as of now, it’s a moment of pride for Mumbaikars and lays to rest the fears of people that they would be evicted and their land would be taken away. These apprehensions have been removed now. These are patches which have been discovered after ground surveillance. I don’t think anywhere in India in any urban city, any government has done this. It also helps Mumbai in its climate change battle, keeping temperatures down, giving us fresh air and it also benefits wildlife, so it’s a great move by the government,” Stalin said.
Sanjiv Valsan, member of the NGO ‘Ped Lagao Ped Bachao’, said, “Earlier, the land was theoretically declared forest, but now, through this map there is a clear picture of exactly which area is under the diary department and which area is forest. The Phase 1 map indicates areas are not under slums, dairy structures and projects handed to other departments. In Phase 2, more portions will come under the green section, which are forest lands.”
When Aarey was declared as ‘reserved forest’ in September 2020, the CMO, Maharashtra, had said, “This will be the first instance of an extensive forest blossoming within the limits of a metropolis anywhere in the world.”
Environment and Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray had tweeted: “Phase 2 survey for additional open/forest land in Aarey post phase I will begin soon. This would help the state protect the flora & fauna existing in SGNP and Aarey.