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:
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.
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.
Suppresing 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.
Join hands with the Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) to mitigate these threats and secure the future of the green lungs of Mumbai.