“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” ― Chris Maser
Aarey, located in Mumbai’s western suburb of Goregaon, is really the last green lung of the city, a biotope that shelters newly discovered species of scorpions and tarantulas, besides being a treasure trove of birds, butterflies, amphibians and mammals, among them the leopard.
Aarey was once a part of the deciduous stretch of forests that characterised much of the Mumbai metropolitan area, which is now restricted to the adjacent Sanjay Gandhi National Park and hillocks. With the coming of the Aarey dairy co-operative, the forests of Aarey were broken up into grasslands, scrubland, marsh and water bodies, making it a refuge for an interesting and diverse assemblage of plant and animal life. The large, open para-grass fields are feeding grounds for munias, drongos and egrets. The drains that nurture these grass pastures are home to native fish species, crabs, shrimps and water snakes, among them the checkered keelback water snake, which is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act as Schedule II creatures.
There are over 77 species of birds in Aarey. To lend some colour to the numbers, here are some of them: the Hoopoe, Indian Roller, Grey Hornbill, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Rosy Starling, Spotted Owlet and the Glossy Ibis . . . all in the heart of the city. A total of thirty-four species of wildflowers, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 46 species of reptiles, several of these listed under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, and 16 species of mammals, including the elusive but ornamental and, therefore, magnificent leopard, have been documented in Aarey. The leopards here were earlier believed to have strayed in from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is contiguous with Aarey. However, camera trap exercises have shown the presence of resident leopards, which are regularly sighted in the area. And Aarey’s richness continues to be unveiled. Recently, a rare and snake-like amphibian that lays its eggs near water bodies was discovered in the interiors of the Aarey forest. (THIS IS TO BE MORE SPECIFIC, FOR EG: SCIENTISTS FROM THE XXXX INSTITUTE RECENTLY DISCOVERED A RARE AND SNAKE-LIKE AMBPHIBIAN ETC.).
Aarey is full of little micro-habitats of diversity. This place has a wide diversity of arachnids and scorpions, two of which are even named after Aarey. A new species of Trapdoor Spider (Idiops rubrolimbatus), Tarantula (Heterophrictus aareyeneis) and Scorpion (Lychas aareyensis) were fairly recent discoveries in this area.
What is more, species thought to have been extinct have been rediscovered in Aarey, like the Tarantula (Haploclastus validus), which was found after 110 years, or the Trapdoor Spider (Idiops bombayensis) also found after 110 years, and another tarantula (Pleasiophrictus millardi),. rediscovered after 100 years.
Ongoing research by Zeeshan Mirza and Rajesh Sanap, wildlife researchers associated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, has revealed the presence of several undescribed species, which include a lizard, spiders and various other species of invertebrates.
Destruction of Aarey could lead to increased downstream flooding of the Mithi river because of the disturbance of the water retention regime provided by Aarey.
Needless to say, Aarey is the last substantial green space in the city, which will be starved of oxygen were it not for Aarey.
It also moderates high temperatures, as otherwise the continuous concrete of a city creates “heat islands”, which can make life unbearable to its people.
Aarey also acts as a buffer to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A buffer means that animals birds and other wildlife may stray in and out. Aarey keeps these creatures from straying into the city-proper, and prevents unpleasant interactions between man and wildlife.
This is a wonderful place for our children and youth to be introduced to the joys of nature. Where in the world can one enjoy all the pleasures of a metropolitan city as well as the bounty of nature? And remember, it is not an artificial park, it is a FOREST.
Increasingly, cutting edge is recognizing such a thing as “nature deficiency” as a cause of many diseases among people living in grey city zones. Being out in nature will increasingly be prescribed as a means of replenishing one’s health. And Mumbai has a readymade place for this in Aarey.
Economic reforms based on the idea of limitless growth in a limited world, can only be maintained by the powerful grabbing the resources of the vulnerable. The resource grab that is essential for “growth” creates a culture of rape—the rape of the earth, of local self-reliant economies, and of women. – Vandana Shiva
MMRCL, which is building a car shed in Aarey, says we shouldn’t oppose the project because it is going to occupy a very small percentage – only 33 hectares (Ha) – of Aarey forest land. But this is precisely how an entire forest begins to get eaten up. There is also considerable evidence to show that eventually more and more space will be built up in Aarey in the vicinity of the carshed, making Aarey no different from the rest of the city. And the same argument has been used every single time forest land has been diverted.
Aarey used to be a lush green and densely covered forest once upon a time. Unfortunately, it has already seen a part of its 3166 acres taken over for various ‘developmental’ projects and non- allied businesses. As Mumbai expands rapidly and open land is at a premium; the vast open grasslands and open spaces of Aarey are looked upon by builders and government agencies as a ready solution to Mumbai’s space crunch.
Some of the immediate threats to Aarey include:
Illegal encroachments and structures are an equally grave threat to Aarey. The number and size of these slums has grown steadily over the years. What is alarming is that they are being provided with documents, water and electric connections paving the way for them to become permanent structures. This encourages residents to occupy more areas, by cutting down trees and razing grasslands. It has also led to a major problem in sanitation and garbage as the residents throw their garbage on the periphery of the slums. This attracts stray dogs which in turn lure resident leopards leading inevitably to fatal human-leopard conflicts.
Garbage is a major cause of concern in Aarey. Visitors and people entering Aarey litter the area freely. The local slums too generate a lot of garbage and plastic. These mounds of waste find their way to the lakes and streams running through Aarey, choking them and causing them to overflow. The huge load of traffic that passes through Aarey is also a cause of garbage. Many parts of Aarey have also been used for shooting of films. The sets made of POP, cardboard and plywood are not disposed of properly. They are left to deface and damage the soil and waterbodies. Plastic wrappers, tea cups, plates and other disposables used by the film unit also litter the area making it an eyesore and health hazard.
Law & Order:
Inadequate security remains a major cause of concern. Even though there are two police chowkis, it is not sufficient to patrol the entire area. Miscreants , criminals and unruly elements ,freely use the forest area for consumption of alcohol and leave behind broken glass and litter. Rash driving and drunken brawls are also a common place occurrence.
Suppressing forest regeneration:
Rampant tree felling , cordoning off areas illegally for agriculture, hill cutting, excavation of mud, building makeshift temples and other religious structures are the latest ways for usurping land thereby preventing the regeneration of forests. These areas slowly become the site for future slums and semi-permanent constructions. Another important threat to the forests of Aarey is the extensive illegal grazing by cattle from nearby slums. Over grazing has prevented fresh regeneration of forests.
Frequent fires are also a cause of concern. These fires are started purportedly to burn garbage but are left unmonitored. These get out of control and cause heavy damage to trees and the undergrowth, especially in the dry season. The lack of a ready fire response service in Aarey further aggravates the situation
The Aarey Dairy is important to the city of Mumbai since it gives us security in terms of localized milk supply. Instead of buying milk, which is highly priced owing to the transportation cost involved when it is bought from rural areas far from the city of Mumbai, it is best that people get pure milk without adulteration and at affordable prices while reducing their carbon footprint. Government apathy towards the Dairy has led to it becoming a an unviable unit. This has made Aarey vulnerable and we believe that it is just another plan to usurp the land after shutting down the Dairy, which has been the pride and legacy of Mumbai.
Within Aarey lies the potential for eco tourism and leisure in natural surroundings while providing much needed relief from Mumbai’s pollution. The trees of Aarey are instrumental in supplying a constant flow of fresh, wholesome air for the citizens of Mumbai. A city, infamous for its growing respiratory woes, can ill afford losing precious green cover
The threats to the natural landscape of Aarey are many, both planned and unplanned. Unfortunately all these threats are due to humans. Our group hopes to work along with the administration and other stakeholders in tackling these challenges and get Aarey protected status, under the law and on the ground. It is upto the residents of Mumbai and the local community in Aarey to restore its lost glory as a green haven for Mumbaikars.
Concrete replacing green:
The land use of Aarey has changed drastically since its inception in 1949. Existing central government and state institutions ( like a veterinary college, MHADA, SRPF, Film City, NDDB) have already leased out land here. But the past decade has seen many new projects come up in this ‘No Development Zone’ at a rapid pace. Residential towers, a petrol pump, marriage lawns, a crematorium and cemetery, Force one camp, gymnasium and numerous religious structures have been built or are proposed at the expense of precious green cover. The biggest and most controversial project has been the Royal Palms estate on the periphery of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). The permission to build a golf course was misused to construct offices, villas, apartment complexes and hotels. Besides being an eyesore these buildings have infiltrated the serene landscape of Aarey colony which is contiguous to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).
Many infrastructure projects are also on the drawing board. A metro car shed for Metro Lline III, the Goregaon- Mulund elevated link road – arterial road, a 200 acre zoo, expansion of the film city, are projects which would change the character of this eco sensitive zone. The final nail has been the draft development plan 2034 for Mumbai. It envisages Aarey to be a growth node; a future commercial and institutional hub of the city on the lines of Bandra- Kurla Complex. It also proposes to remove the ‘No Development zone’ status of Aarey and change its zoning to a Residential- Commercial Zone.
Look at how many projects and programmes have eaten into Aarey forest already since 1970 –
- Slum Redevelopment Authority project- During the time of the Sushilkumar Shinde government, the ADF (PLEASE EXPAND ON FIRST MENTION) department had planned an SRA along the highway. Now the encroachers’ hutments in Aarey have also increased and the government has revived the plan and wants to give 180 acres in Aarey to this.
- Metro car shed – The MMRDA has planned Metro – III connecting Colaba with Seepz. Although several more suitable sites were considered for the car shed, it was Aarey which was eventually chosen. By their own admission this was because Aarey would allow for expansion. (THE EXACT PHRASE FOR ‘EXPANSION’ WE MUST GET FROM THE DOCUMENT. I SHALL LOOK FOR IT)
- International Zoo: Upset with pathetic state of the Byculla zoo, the state wants to have an international zoo at Goregaon. The dairy development department has granted 190 acres in Aarey for this.(GIVE YEAR)
- Cemeteries: Since Aarey has a lot of open land, politicians started asking for cemeteries here. The BMC got a Hindu cremation ground along the highway, of 2000 sq metres in 2006, and Muslims were given two burial grounds (one along the highway and second along SEEPZ) of 7,500 and 2,500 sq metres.
- Film City- To develop Bollywood, the state transferred 329 acres 3 gunthas to the ministry of cultural affairs. (GIVE YEAR) Though the Film City gave a huge boost to the film industry, it created immense disturbance to wildlife in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
- MHADA: In 1977, MHADA wanted land for low-cost housing. The state transferred 26 acres 38 gunthas to MHADA, which constructed Bimbisar Nagar along the highway.
- Mahananda- Pressured by politicians from western Maharashtra, the dairy development department was forced to grant 27 acres 9 gunthas in 1993 for Mahananda Dairy. Today Mahananda is a major competitor to the Aarey dairy brand.
- Santacruz Electronic Processing Zone. Development of SEEPZ–16 acres allotted in 1994
- Force One. After the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, the government decided to set up a security force called Force One and granted it 98 acres 6 gunthas in 2009. Earlier, in 1977, a plot of 108 acres, 27 gunthas was given to State Reserve Police Force for its complex. Now builders are eyeing this plot (IDEALLY PROVIDE LINK TO ARTICLE WHICH SUBSTANTIATES THIS).
- Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link road. Constructed by the MMRDA, 9 acres and two gunthas were awarded for it in 1979.
- Police wireless station. 1 acre 4 gunthas awarded in 1971
- Doodhsagar Cooperative Housing Society. Allotted 5 acres in 1975
- JVLR and Water complex for BMC in Powai, 65 acres 6 gunthas allotted in 1962
- Konkan Agricultural University along the highway was allotted 145 acres in 1971.
- RBI was allotted XXX acres 36 gunthas near Film City in 1987
- Vanaspathi Consveration (WHAT IS THIS? Conservation?) Laboratory: 1 acre 25 gunthas in 1989
- Construction of Goregaon Mulund Link Road: 8 acres 10 gunthas in 1974
- Construction of Central Poultry; 26 acres 28 gunthas in 1972
- Development of Modern Bakery –18 acres in 1966
- Reliance substation, now training institute – 40,000 sq metres in 1993
- Building for Maharashtra Earthquake Authority; 1 guntha in 1998
- BMC water supply unit; 5,000 sq mt in 2007
- BMC water complex– Maroshi – 470 sq metres in 1979
- Proposed SRA- 35 acre 6 gunthas along highway – in 2010 (will now encompass 180 acres)
- Road for connecting Amir park – 17,690 sq metres allotted in 1997-98
- Central Dairy building near Mahananda: 95603 sq metres in 1997
- Two BMC pumping units, 40 x 40 metres, located in Aarey colony unit no 16 and 20.
- BMC school near Aarey dairy – 5 acres in unit no. 16 in 1963
- Fisheries institute, 10 acres 28 gunthas in 1962
- Maharashtra Agro Industries –2 acres 27 gunthas. Near goregaon check naka in 1971
- Ten plots of 20 x 15 sq metres for Reliance Energy to supply power to slums in 1998
- IOC petrol pump along highway, 200 sq metres in 2006.
- Five plots of 6.40 sq metres each to Reliance for supplying power to hamlets in 2011
- BMC water tunnel – 2,040 sq metres in 2011.
The future depends on what we do in the present. – Mahatma Gandhi