Monday, June 12, 2017

Mumbai: NGO requests CM Devendra Fadnavis to initiate probe into Aarey 'land scam'

Mid-Day: Mumbai: Monday, June 12, 2017.
A city-based NGO named Vanshakti has been fighting to Save Aarey milk colony and is also associated with the Aarey Conservation Group has written a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis requesting him to initiate a judicial inquiry into hundreds of crores of land scam allegedly planned by Forest Department officials so that Aarey milk colony remains away from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).
It should be noted that the NGO Vanshakti along with Aarey Conservation Group (ACG) had moved to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against Metro car shed project in Aarey Colony stating that the project will have negative impact on the biodiversity of the Aarey. The matter at present is being heard in NGT.
The NGO claims that after filling several RTI applications, it discovered that Aarey colony has been a part of SGNP after it was transferred in 1969 to the National Park, Forest Division.
It has also questioned the land status, “We filed our petition in the National Green Tribunal, Pune in the year 2015 and since then, we have been relentlessly seeking data and explanations as to why such a land with 5 lac trees and innumerable wildlife in it was denied the status of a forest land. The letter goes on to say that the Forest Department has always shied away and refrained from admitting the truth of Aarey being part of the national park and has chosen to remain silent on the issue. “Forest Department is aggressively claiming hundreds of acres of land infested with slums as being part of the national park, which continuing to wash its hands off Aarey which is infested with 5 lakh trees, 76 types of birds, 7 leopards, endemic scorpions, reptiles belonging to the schedule –I of the Wildlife Protection Act, among other.
The NGO claims that the main motive for excluding Aarey from SGNP is due to huge real estate value of the land parcel , “This is nothing but a huge land scam which at a conservative estimate will amass crores in terms of real estate value assuming only half of Aarey is taken up for real estate." In the letter, the NGO appeals to CM Devendra Fadnavis to intervene and take action, “As the caretaker of the states natural resources and as the most powerful official in the state, it is very much within your power to prevent this fraud and destruction of the forests of Mumbai. It would be a travesty of justice, a monumental scam an unquantifiable environmentally damaging concept if Aarey is left unprotected."
The Letter ends by demanding action against officers involved in the scam and, “We also request you to initiate or give directions to connect Aarey colony to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and for the larger public good by preventing non-forest activities in it." The management plan for Sanjay Gandhi National Park that was prepared few years back and was submitted to the government also mentions the name of Aarey milk colony.
The Protected Forests paragraph on page number 32 of the Management plan reads, " The protected forest belong to eight villages and these forests presently form parts of compartment number 1136 and 101. The revenue lands transferred from Aarey Milk Colony form unclassed forests." The environmentalists have alleged that the Thane Forest Department (Territorial) in its affidavit that was submitted to National Green Tribunal have deliberately not mentioned the above point from the SGNP Management plan.
The 21.1 paragraph about Roads on page number 71 of the Management plan reads " The network of routes inside the Division mainly consists of the roads approaching from the three entrances to the park name, namely the main entrance Gate, the aarey gate or Elephant Gate and the Bhandup Complex Gate. In addition there are few forest roads which are used for the management of this area. In 1969 the Greater Mumbai milk scheme transferred the 18 kilometre long cement concrete road from Aarey to Borivali to the state Forest Department including the approach routes to kanheri caves and the Gandhi Memorial.There are nearly 75 culverts at various places on these roads at present the length of the various types of the road within the park is around 72.6 km." states the paragraph from the management plan .