While most of Mumbai was sleeping peacefully, trees were being felled in the Aarey area at 5 in the morning, amidst heavy police presence. On April 17, the Supreme Court had allowed for the felling of 177 trees while imposing a Rs. 10 lakh fine on the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) for exceeding the limit set by the Supreme Court in its previous order. The Supreme Court was dissatisfied because, despite allowing authorities to consider the removal or non-removal of only 84 trees, permission to cut 177 trees was sought.
And today, on April 25, the MMRCL started felling more trees in Aarey Colony’s Prajapurpada village to make way for a shunting neck for the Metro-3 train. Line-3 (Aqua Line) of the Mumbai Metro is a 33.5 km under-construction metro line with 27 stations that connects Cuffe Parade, Bandra Kurla Complex, and Aarey Colony. It is important to note that, of the 177 trees felled, 53 will be transplanted and 124 will be permanently cut down, with the Supreme Court having cleared the way for the rail corporation.
Kishan Bhoye, an Adivasi resident of Prajapurpada, who belongs to the Kokna tribe, spoke to the Hindustan Times and stated that “Throughout the morning, we could hear the sound of electric saws at work behind the barricades set up by MMRCL. There was police bandobast (presence) not only in Prajapurpada but also at Picnic Point in Aarey, and even in the SEEPZ area near Sariput Nagar. My family has cared and lived off these trees for at least three generations. They have taken away a part of our identity.” As provided by the Hindustan Time, Kishan used to run a general store in Sariput Nagar which was demolished by the MMRCL during the 2017 evictions. He stated that even though he had been given an alternative store in Kanjur, it is too far from the main road and doesn’t generate enough income.
Social media is flooded with videos showing a large number of police officers deployed in the area. Authorities are also being accused of felling more than 177 trees. According to the Hindustan Times, environmentalists and adivasis living near the project site estimate that the total number of “unnumbered” trees is between 90 and 100, which have not been granted permission to be felled. Among them were at least three fig trees, one pipal, one mango tree, a mulberry tree, and a coconut palm.
The video can be viewed here:
Amrita Bhattacharjee, one of the petitioners in the case of the felling of the tree in Aarey before the Supreme Court, expressed her disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision as well as her concerns about the illegal felling of the tree, and stated, “It is a shame that our submissions were not considered by the apex court. Despite the urgency of the situation, I filed a complaint with the forest department and IIT-Bombay about the undercounting of trees but received no response. Furthermore, because this project site is on a steep hill where JCB machines cannot reach, there is widespread concern that even trees designated for transplantation have been felled en masse,” as reported by the Hindustan Times.
The plight of the Adivasi Budhiya Bhoye, who had been living in the Aarey forest area, is also being highlighted on social media, with emphasis on the snatching away of their livelihood. Budhiya was the only Adivasi petitioner in the proceedings before the Supreme Court, while the others were filed by environmental activists including Zoru Bhatena, Amrita Bhattacharjee, Rishav Ranjan and NGO Vanashakt. The Bhoyes, whose eviction was halted by the Bombay High Court order in 2018, are now the only family in Prajapur to continue practicing indigenous land use, harvesting fruits, tubers, and a few vegetables for personal consumption and sale, as reported by the Hindustan Times. Unfortunately, the natural resources that had allowed them to do so are now being depleted, with the MMRCL felling 124 trees in the area, 75 of which are cared for by the Bhoyes.
It is important to note that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) evicted 61 Adivasi families from the pada in 2017, many of whom were engaged in small-scale agriculture and horticulture, and 2,141 trees were felled by the MMRCL in October 2019 amidst heated protests.