MUMBAI: A car depot for the Metro III project is not the only construction planned inside the eco-sensitive Aarey Colony . Around 8.6 acres of the 81 acres reserved for the depot are to be used for “real estate development“. The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), executing the Rs 23,136 crore project, has asked the state government to permit a floor space index (FSI) of 3 to commercially exploit this plot inside the green lung.
If the government sanctions this unusually high FSI, property experts said builders will be able to construct around 15 lakh sq ft worth over Rs 2,000 crore on this 8.6 acre parcel. Documents procured under the Right to Information Act (RTI) by activist Zoru Bhatena reveal the MMRC wrote to the state urban development department over a year ago. Around 8.6 acres of the 81 acres reserved for the metro car shed are to be used for “real estate development.“ The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC), executing the Rs 23,136 crore project, has asked the state government to permit a floor space index (FSI) of 3 to commercially exploit this plot inside the green lung.
Over a year ago, the MMRC sought FSI 3 on the Aarey plot for “real estate development.“ Activists and environmentalists have been protesting against any construction and uprooting of trees inside this green sprawl. A government notice inviting objections and suggestions from citizens last month, sought to delete the 81 acres (almost four times the size of Oval Maidan) of the Aarey land from no-development zone and reserve it for metro car depot workshop, allied facilities and commercial (C-1) zone. A C-1 zone allows commercial as well as residential construction.
MRRC managing director Ashwini Bhide told media the corporation plans to raise around Rs 1,000 crore by commercially exploiting part of the Aarey land. “But we do not have immediate plans to build on this portion. For the moment, MRCC will set up a temporary casting yard on this 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) abutting the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road,“ she said. Bhide however added that the car shed will be “open to sky .“
Bhatena, who has filed several public interest litigations in the high court, said a metro shed does not require 81 acres, but a much smaller area. “The modus operandi seems to grab a no-development zone under the garb of a metro shed and then use a large chunk of it for commercial use,“ he said. The 81 acres at Aarey colony was controlled by the state animal husbandry department, which then handed it over to the government for the metro car shed. Due to protests by citizens against the depot, the state appointed a technical committee two years ago to examine nine locations.
The committee recommended the Aarey site despite objections by two environmental experts on the panel, IIT Mumbai professor Shyam Asolekar and NEERI director Rakesh Kumar. Their dissent note said, “Not in agreement with conclusions and all the recommendations stated above.” MMRC claimed that “one of the most critical activities for the successful delivery of Mumbai Metro Line 3 project is the construction of the depot to receive, test, commission the trains for service…”
Last month, the Union environment ministry issued the final notification on the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey Colony. Bhatena said, “MMRC is proposing land for real estate development with FSI 3, which is totally unrelated to Metro activity and cannot be termed as “public interest. Hence, it cannot be permitted.“
TOI had on January 17 reported how, ahead of the Mumbai municipal corporation polls, protecting the green cover of Aarey Colony has united the citizens and activists of P-South ward, which covers Goregaon east and west and parts of Malad and Oshiwara.
Once real estate development takes place within Aarey Colony and developers get a foothold inside the green zone, the area will certainly be ravaged with steel and concrete structures and Mumbai will suffer a heavy blow to its environment. Though the Metro III is a crucial public transport project which will be of immense benefit to commuters, development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of the environment, especially in a city which lacks open spaces. On the one hand, new open spaces are not being created and those that exist are not being taken back by BMC from private parties, and on the other there is a deplorable ‘development’ plan now.
Credits ET Realty