Mumbai: City-based environmentalist and ‘Save Aarey’ group activist Zoru Bhathena has suggested that the vehicular traffic inside Aarey colony should be regulated now. While doing so, he has referred to the 2016 eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) notification which had clearly mentioned "vehicular traffic to be regulated in a habitat friendly manner and specific provisions in this regard shall be incorporated in the zonal master plan and till such time as the plan is prepared and approved by the competent authority in the state government, the monitoring committee shall monitor compliance of vehicle movement under the relevant acts and the rules and regulations made thereunder."
In addition, Stalin Dayanand, Director of Vanshakti, a non-profit environmental NGO, has also written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Environmental Minister Aaditya Thackeray stressing the need for traffic restriction inside Aarey colony. Stalin stated, "It is imperative to impose travel restrictions inside Aarey to make it unviable to be used as a short cut for all. The government on its part, if it is feasible and permissible environmentally, may consider making an underground road using deep tunnelling method in a manner that keeps the flora and fauna protected over ground. This could serve purpose of conservation as well as address the need of traffic mitigation."
The NGO also reminded that few years ago the roads inside Aarey used to be shut at night to allow movement of wildlife. Therefore, toll/ check nakas system should be restarted to protect the sanctity of the habitat and the forest. The NGO also recommended toll-free passes to the bonafide residents of the Aarey.
Aarey has been notified as ESZ. Moreover, earlier this month the Mahavikas Aghadi government declared 808 acres of Aarey as reserve forest, apart from shifting the controversial Metro 3 depot to Kanjurmarg.
With so much development taking place to protect Aarey, Bhathena asserted, "Due to metro work on the Western Express Highway (WEH), Aarey road is being largely used but, significant work of metro has been completed. Metro barricades have been removed except at few stretches. Therefore, Aarey road cannot be used forever as a shortcut route. The ESZ law should be implemented."
Moreover, by prohibiting traffic, the animals will be protected, said the activist.
The demand to restrict traffic inside Aarey is being put forward because on October 20 morning, a leopard cub lost its way and entered into a buffalo shelter at Aarey. The cub vanished into the forest after it was chased by locals. A video of the incident went viral on social media group.
Earlier also leopards were spotted in residential areas which are in close proximity of Aarey. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region, SGNP and surrounding areas including Aarey is believed to be home to an estimated 47 leopards.
Aarey Milk Colony Chief Executive Officer Nathu Rathod when questioned about regulating traffic inside Aarey he replied, "The road has been handed over to the BMC a decade ago. If any restriction has to be imposed they can do so."