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As fascism was rising in Europe, German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht lamented that conversations about trees would distract us from bigger things and blind us to injustices. But, today, it is crucial to discuss trees—and rivers, seas and mountains. Through their wanton destruction, our planet has been brought to the edge of a precipice. Temperatures are increasing, coastal cities are at risk, and extreme weather events are occurring more frequently. In India, heatwaves have become an expected feature. Cities like Chennai have witnessed floods while facing a water crisis.
Paradoxically, while environmental consciousness is rising globally, we are witnessing leaders who are beholden to lobbies and/or in denial. US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro are perfect examples, but some Indian politicians also belong here. Over the years, Indian policymakers have engaged in tokenism, halfhearted measures and blatant surrender to vested interests. The encroachment of Aarey Colony in Mumbai illustrates this well.
I encountered Aarey about a decade ago, while living in its vicinity and training for the Mumbai Marathon. With its lush green setting, Aarey occupied a place of pride among Mumbai runners. But, Aarey meant much more for us( runners, walkers, people in the neighborhood) a connection with nature, a place for camaraderie, and a site for charming stories about ghosts and leopards. Many of us appreciated its ecological importance, and still do so.
Located in the suburbs and described as Mumbai’s “ green lung” , Aarey is spread approximately over 1,280 hectares, with about 480,000 trees. It is home to leopards and different kinds of birds, reptiles, butterflies, and insects. Just in the past decade, six new species have been discovered, and one (a scorpion) has even been named after Aarey (Lychas Aareyensis). Leopards of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey have been featured in National Geographic. Aarey should be preserved not just for its beauty and biodiversity, but also for other reasons: e.g., flood-control and water-table maintenance. Mumbai’s vulnerability to heavy rains and flooding is well-known, but this was reinforced by the 2005 cloudburst.
In a growing city with a powerful real estate lobby, it is no surprise that multiple attempts have been made to encroach on Aarey. The most recent one is Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) decision to locate a car-shed/depot of Line 3, to house, maintain and repair trains. The plan to fell more than 2,000 trees for this purpose started galvanizing people in 2014. I discovered this plan during one of my visits to Aarey. After moving to the US in 2015, I kept myself connected through social media, visits to Aarey, and conversations with activists Stalin Dayanand and Amrita Bhattacharjee.
This article first appeared on www.metrorailnews.in
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