The Tree Authority of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), controlled by the ruling Shiv Sena, has given permission to Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to remove over 1000 trees for Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL). As part of the plan, around 454 trees will be axed while around 550 other trees will be transplanted for the project. MTHL, also known as the Sewri-Nhava Sheva project, will connect Sewri with Nhava Sheva in Navi Mumbai through a 22-km long, 6-lane highway bridge over the Arabian sea.
This move comes after the Shiv Sena ‘saving’ the trees in Aarey milk colony by cancelling the metro car shed project which was to be established there. In the run-up to the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the Shiv Sena had fiercely protested the project in order to save the ‘Aarey forest’. This was despite the clearance from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the nod of the Bombay High Court (BHC). After coming to power, the Uddhav Thackeray govt had stalled the project, and after that allotted an alternate site. But since coming to power, the Shiv Sena led govt has allowed axing of trees to make way for several other projects.
BMC had plans to remove 1172 trees initially; uncertainty over transplantation of 550 trees
The proposal was for removing 1172 trees initially but the number was later reduced to 1,004. To ‘compensate’ for the same, MMRDA claimed that it will plant around 2000 trees in Rajawali and Kaman villages of Vasai district. Although MMRDA has assured to transplant over 550 trees, it is pertinent to remember that transplantation procedures do not succeed every time. It can be attributed to stress in a new environment, physical damage and downsizing. As such, there remains a question mark as to whether 550 trees can actually be transplanted.
Reportedly, BMC had allowed removal of 199 trees for the construction of two flyovers at Mahalaxmi and another 20 trees for Hancock Bridge construction. The Bridges Department of BMC has, however, promised to replant around 400 trees around the Mahalaxmi racecourse within 15 days of cutting them. Although MMRDA had sought for permission the project in June 2018, the paperwork was reportedly completed only two months ago. The axing of trees is likely to be conducted next year and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2022.
Shiv Sena and its activism over Aarey Forest
The Uddhav Thackeray-led govt, in a vindictive order, had declared the Aarey area where the metro car shed was planed as ‘forest land’, and had shifted the facility to government land in Kanjurmarg. The decision to shift the metro car shed came after several left-wing activists and Sena prince Aaditya Thackeray had expressed their disapproval for the construction of metro shed at Aarey.
Even though the metro project will result in substantial improvement in the environment by removing lakhs of fossil fuel-guzzling vehicles from the roads, the project was opposed due to political reasons. The decision to shift the metro car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg will now increase the cost of the project by at least Rs 4,000 crore, which was estimated by a committee appointed by the current government. Further, the project will also be delayed by several years due to ongoing litigation and the condition of the new site.
U- turn of Shiv Sena on environmental activism
The ruling Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which often advocates for eco-conservation by cancelling the metro project at Aarey on ‘concerns’ that trees are being cut, earlier took a U-turn by deciding to axe more than 300 trees for the construction of a metro line the elevated Metro-2A corridor between Dahisar and DN Nagar. Shiv Sena, especially under the leadership of Aaditya Thackeray, had been extremely vocal on the issues of environmental conversation, as the young Sena prince had opposed the BJP government’s decision of felling of trees at Aarey Milk colony to construct a Metro shed.
A month after extreme activism by Shiv Sena to impress its coalition parties – Congress and NCP, Sena had exposed its hypocrisy by ordering the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation to chop down 1,000 trees for a Bal Thackeray memorial in Priyadarshini Park. Interestingly, the environmental activists, NGOs and liberals who had hit the streets to protest against the then BJP government in the state for axing the trees at Aarey colony have now suspiciously chosen to remain silent. Perhaps, the activist seems to have come to a conclusion that it is a right step to axe the trees for the metro as the decision has been taken by the secular alliance of Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP.