Save Aarey: MMRC, sure you have all permits, ask activists

The proposed site for the Metro III depot in Aarey. File pic
The proposed site for the Metro III depot in Aarey. File pic

While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRC) published advertisements on Monday claiming they can go ahead with constructing the Metro car depot in Aarey Milk Colony as they have all the necessary permissions in place, claims by activists saying otherwise might prove to be a thorn in their path.

One of the claims is a letter, written in March 2012 by former metropolitan commissioner Rahul Asthana to the urban development department. It states that the proposed car depot plot in Aarey is in a No Development Zone (NDZ) and hence, without removing it out of the NDZ, the car depot cannot be constructed.

Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti, which has approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) opposing the car shed, has accessed a copy of Asthana’s letter written through an RTI. Asthana who was also the additional chief secretary of MMRDA, had written to TC Benjamin, additional chief secretary (I) of the urban development department regarding implementation of Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) along the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz corridor and change for the use of the land identified for the Metro car depot.

Not feasible until change
Point number 6 in the letter states, “The said land located in K-East ward village falls in the ‘No Development Zone’ designated as Aarey Milk Colony. In view of the above, it is not feasible to use it for the proposed Metro car depot. Therefore it is proposed to change the existing NDZ of the land to ‘Metro Car Depot/Workshop, Allied Facilities and Commercial’. The letter concludes, “As this project is important in the view of public interest, it is proposed to change the use of land referred in para 6 (iv) from ‘No Development Zone’ to ‘Metro Car Depot/Workshop, Allied Facilities and Commercial’ under section 37 (1AA) of the MRTP Act 1966” (sic). Asthana remained unavailable for comment.

MMRC’s claims
MMRC’s public appeal published on Monday reads, “Aarey car depot site has been selected on technical ground after thoroughly examining all other alternatives. There are no restraining orders by NGT against car depot construction in Aarey and NGT also permitted temporary work in a three-hectare adjoining area. Aarey car depot area is outside Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around SGNP. Contractor appointed by MMRC has undertaken activities such as shifting of water pipelines, storm water drain, which fall under civic amenities permitted in NDZ.”

Activists say
Environment activist Zoru Bhathena said, “MMRC has claimed that there are no restraining orders by NGT against the car depot. However, the fact is that the state government in a March 16, 2016 GR have proposed handing over the Aarey land subject to the NGT’s decision in Vanashakti’s application, which is in connection with declaration [of the land] as a forest and ESZ. The Mumbai collector has also informed the Bombay High Court on August 31, 2015 that the Aarey land falls under ESZ and that NGT has issued orders to maintain status quo. Are the state government’s GR and collector lying or is MMRCL lying?”

Stalin D told mid-day, “We have written a letter to chief minister stating that by publishing a public appeal in leading newspapers, MMRCL has misused public funds, as many points in the public appeal are nothing but a lie.”