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Protest against 'turning' Aarey forest into hub of real estate extravaganza in Mumbai

By Harsh Thakor* 
A recent a protest demonstration staged at the Picnichen Spot, opposite Shaheed Birsa Munda Statue, Aarey forest, Mumbai, to oppose the present Maharashtra government of Shinde-Fadnavis in installing Metro 3 depot at Aarey sought to project the truth behind depot politics and land scam.
More than 500 persons protested from a broad strata of society. Students, Dalits, Adivasis and activists of many NGOs, and members of political parties and social organisations participated. Among the important participants were ex-armymen, members of the Disha students group, Naujwan Bharat Sabha and Bigul Mazdoor Dasta.
Around three weeks ago, embarrassed to the core from the growing youth protest, the Shinde-Fadnavis government issued instructions to brutally subvert every initiative to organize people against the illegal destruction of Aarey forest.
Avinash, a first year MA student of philosophy of the Mumbai University and member of the Disha students' group, and Dr Pooja, an occupational therapist and member of the Progressive Doctors' League, both constituent organizations of the Save Aarey Joint Action Committee, were detained at the Aarey Police Station along with 11 other local residents and environmental activists.
What is the truth behind depot politics?
  • The Kanjur depot plot measures 41 ha (102 acres).
  • If an integrated depot for Line 3, 6 and upcoming Line 4 and14 is planned at Kanjur, then the entire plot will be consumed by the Metro. This also eliminates the need for Aarey or land in Thane.
  • If Metro 3 depot plot is shifted to Aarey and Line 4 uses land in Thane, then Metro 6 only requires 15 ha (37 acres) leaving the balance area of nearly 26 ha (65 acres) open to residential and/or commercial development.
  • Denying Kanjur land for Metro 3 paves the way for the exploitation of balance areas of the plots in Aarey and Kanjur under the disguise of 'ancillary development'. The plot chosen in Thane also becomes vulnerable.
  • An area of 165 ha in Aarey has also been exempted thus adding more lands to be exploited.
  • Taking into account the available FSI, the plot areas of Aarey and Kanjur and the current ready reckoner rates, the monetary potential of just these two plots touches Rs 1 lakh crore!
Thus, Aarey has become the egg or hub of this real estate extravaganza.
Unfortunately this scam which will only benefit a few, and is being used to stall the work of critical metro lines and delaying them.
The people backing this distorted decision are answerable if it is in Mumbai's interest to
  • Forfeit an important forested area like Aarey?
  • Suffer delay in completion of the Mumbai Metro network?
  • Deprive Mumbaikars of better connectivity between the various lines and dismantle the convenient linkage of suburbs like Powai, Thane, Badlapur to Western suburbs and South Mumbai?
  • Suffer loss of land, time and hard-earned taxpayers money?
  • What is the motive behind this? Thirst for profits to quench greed for the real estate groups and associated lobbyists?
Slogans were vociferously raised ‘Stop Lies To Supreme Court', ‘Save Aarey Forest’ ‘Save Indigenous People’ ‘Save Adivasis’, ‘Adivasi Lives Matter’, ‘Save Mumbaikar', 'Save Aaarey Save Nature', ‘Shift Metro Car Shed 3 To Kanjur Marg’, ‘Aarey Depot Is Land Scam', ‘Jai Bhim Lal Salaam’, and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.

Background to Save Aarey Movement

The struggle to save the Aarey forest has been going on for a considerable period time now and the movement has received support from individuals and organizations encompassing the country and the world. At its current stage, an obstacle is created by from the environmental approach of NGOs of several individuals, many of whom happily continue to blow their trumpet n their social media profiles of having received awards from Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis.
For these people, ‘environmentalism’ is a business – they raise funds for their ‘activism’ from various corporates, resort to crowd funding if the issue is a popular one and also ‘partner’ with the government whenever possible. They simply fail to gauge the base of bankruptcy of ruling class politics.
The movement’s seeds were planted in response to the state deciding to allot public hand in order to benefit a handful of capitalists and real estate barons. The ‘Metro car shed’ in Aarey is a façade which allows the state to pretend as if the project is in public interest when the real purpose is in fact to allow the builders and developers to come in through the backdoor.
Every political party which has come to power in Maharashtra has endorsed the destruction of Aarey
The lives of over 1,100 species of plants and animals hang in jeopardy to allow them to develop luxury apartments providing great aerial views of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, facilitating the rich the pleasure of living ‘close to nature’. Each such flat will sell for crores of rupees making every tree felled and animal killed for the purpose worth the effort.
It is because such powerful interests are at stake that this plan has crystallised in such a determined and organized manner, despite all government reports and public protests advising against the measure. In their thirst for power, each party -- whether it is the BJP, Shiv Sena, MNS, Congress, NCP, or VBA – cut throats of each other projecting itself as the superior alternative.
These parties never promote welfare for the environment. Their concern lays only within the boundaries of their material interests. No matter which party reaches to the chair the funds which steer them to power invariably comes from the wealthy – the capitalists, builder-developers, corporates and real estate moguls.
As soon as they gain seat of power, they will first try to appease their bosses – those capitalists who have patronised them to reach this destination – and in fact, that is their only purpose. They get to enjoy the privileges of power only so long as they are faithfully bootlick their bosses (and this is precisely what happened when the Fadnavis government came to power).
Once the political class takes a decision to please it the task of enforcing this decision falls on the executive .Here the police intervenes s to ensure that the dictates of the ruling class are obeyed and that all voices of dissent are suppressed. In such a situation, all foolish tactics such as as garlanding, pleading, giving roses to or prostrating before the police are purposeless.
In addition to such stupidity, some “NGO environmentalists” endorse great faith in legalism and seriously believe that the courts will come to their rescue. When the movement is steered on the course of independent political direction and the people are united, the authoritarian behaviour of the judiciary is checked and the courts act in people’s interest.
However, when the movement is weak and confused as it is now, it is clear to even the layman that the court will mainly act to crush any remnant of the movements or stall until such a point where it basically achieves its goal and the legal fight is rendered baseless. Only by establishing the power of the people can the movement can succeed.
As of today, however, the movement is veering towards the opposite direction. The NGO cnvironmentalists, following the doctrine of “an enemy’s enemy is a friend” is looking to appease as many opposition political parties as it can. But the truth is that every political party which has come to power in Maharashtra has endorsed the destruction of the Aarey forest!
Even though some parties may make claims to support the movement to Save Aarey at present it is important to remember the history of these political parties’ actions when in power in the past .The nexus between the BJP, Congress and Shiv Sena in executing many a project jointly is an ideal illustration in recent decades.
Democratic intellectuals need to be brought in the forefront of this struggle. Workers and peasants must grasp the inter relation between such developments and their day to day lives and its link with liberalisation and globalisation. The focus in the movement is in garnering forces to confront the neo-fascist BJP. It was postive to witness how the ruling calluses are shaken by the youth protests of ‘Save Aarey’ agitation.
---
*Freelance journalist who covers mass movements

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