The proposed car shed site under Metro phase III at Aarey colony, Goregaon. —Photo: Vijay Bate

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has cleared the construction of the Metro III train depot in the forest area of Aarey colony by excluding it from the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). A notification issued by the Ministry on Tuesday said: “An area of 1.65 sq km land for the Mumbai Metro Rail shed of Metro Rail Corporation had been excluded from the ESZ.” The news has irked the city’s environment activists who have been agitating to protect the forest area.

The proposal for the car shed for the Metro III line — which will run from Colaba to SEEPZ via Bandra — in the Aarey area was announced in 2014. A draft notification in January 2016 regulated development around the SGNP, and the area in and around the park was termed an ESZ. However, the MoEF received several responses on the draft notification from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation and other State government representatives, after which the area has been excluded from the ESZ.

“This is a clear-cut indicator that the government has no will to save the environment,” says environmentalist Stalin Dayanand. “The metro car shed and other constructions are a severe threat to the forest area.” Mr. Dayanand has been one of the leaders of the Save Aarey campaign; his NGO, Vanashakti, had appealed to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) last December and obtained a ‘status quo’ order on the Aarey Colony area until further orders were given. He says the project will necessitate the cutting of more than 2,300 trees and cause a complete imbalance within the forest area. “Once the construction begins, there will be a railway station and a car shed. Later the government will find ways to get in more construction and in no time there will be land developers who will be allowed to develop the nearby area. For them it will be a lucrative option given its proximity to the railway station.” He said the clearance exposes the government’s agenda: selling land to developers.

The Aarey Conservation Group, a collective of residents and environmentalists, had sent the government a list of seven alternative locations for the car shed, including Kalina, Bandra-Kurla Complex and Kanjurmarg. “None of the suggestions have been considered,” said Disha Singh, a member of the group and a resident of Goregaon. “They are adamant on destroying the ecosystem by bringing the car shed into Aarey. We are not going to let that happen. We will go all out and protest against it. The forest is very close to our heart. One can understand its importance only by observing how the temperature suddenly drops when one passes through Goregaon.” Ms. Singh says that making an exception for the car shed hints at a worrisome plan of the government. “This is just the start of the massive urbanisation that will set in after the car shed.”

Ashwini Bhide, Managing Director of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, said the spot where the depot is planned is flanked by heavy-traffic roads on three sides and that the status quo order of NGT is applicable only for an area of 100 metres from the national park. Further, the Metro project does not fall within that limit. “It is not that we are planning the project in the dense forest. The project is very much on the edge and within the permissible limits of construction. It is sad that the activists are not protesting against the private buildings coming up around the national park and they are instead opposing a public project.”