Photo: Zeeshan Mirza
Photo: Zeeshan Mirza
On September 2, 2020, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced in a meeting that 600 acres of the forested land in Aarey Milk Colony will be officially reserved as a forest to protect the rights of adivasis living here, as well as flora and fauna. The announcement follows a year-long battle to save Aarey’s wildlife and tribal padas or hamlets from deforestation.
Contiguous with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the north, Aarey is 3,000 acres of sprawling wilderness, where 16 mammal, 77 bird, 46 reptile, 13 amphibian and 86 butterfly species thrive, according to the nonprofit Aarey Conservation Group. Leopards moving out of Sanjay Gandhi have been seen in Aarey as well. Though the forest remains widely understudied, a diversity of arachnids and scorpions have been observed here, including two new jumping spider species discovered in 2017 (Langelurillus onyx and Langelurillus lacteus).
The 600 acres designated as a reserved forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, exclude the parcel of land that had been allotted to the controversial Rs. 32,000 crore car shed project for the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro. In October 2019, 2,000 trees were felled overnight by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL), igniting public outrage.
The statement released mentioned that a decision would be taken on the land excluded from the notification based on comments invited from citizens. As laid out by the Indian Forest Act, a Forest Settlement Officer will be appointed to take action on the rights of the 10,000 tribals that depend on Aarey for sustenance.
The Chief Minister also stated that the new Protected Area would be “the first example of a huge jungle” in the middle of a metropolitan city.
“The tunnel was pitch dark, and we have started to see some light. We will continue our struggle for environmental and social justice until the whole of Aarey forest area is saved,” shared Aarey Forest - the official Instagram page of the citizen’s movement - following the government notification.