Aarey Milk Colony, spread over 1,259 hectares of land, is an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. In 1949, the land we know as Aarey was given to the Dairy Development Board of Maharashtra to shift the cattle sheds from the city to Aarey. Since then this area has been known as Aarey Milk Colony. Aarey has 27 tribal hamlets; in terms of flora and fauna, it has leopards and numerous species of birds, animals, insects, butterflies, snakes, herbs, shrubs and trees (which number more than 4 Lakh 80 thousand).
In November 2014 , morning walkers, cyclists and other regular visitors to Aarey Milk Colony found notices put up, announcing that 2298 trees in Aarey would be felled for construction of the carshed for Metro3. Citizens came together to protest against this mass felling of trees. Thus was born the Save Aarey Movement.
In December 2014 angry citizens for the first time gathered in Aarey Picnic Point area to protest against this unnecessary destruction of the city's ecology. 1200 + citizens came together again in February 2015, creating a human chain along Marine Drive. Post this event, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced appointment of an Expert Committee to explore other options for location of the Metro3 carshed .
The Expert Committee had 6 members; four Bureaucrats and two environmental experts from IIT and NEERI. Both the environmentalists put a dissenting note in the Committee's report, holding that Aarey is an ecologically sensitive area and rich in biodiversity. The proposed carshed location is the floodplain of the Mithi River, and construction in this area can lead to flooding in Andheri. Hence the carshed location should be shifted out of Aarey, they said .The other options for the carshed location suggested by the expert members were Kanjurmarg and Backbay in Colaba.
The Detailed Project Report prepared in 2011 for the Metro 3 Line also mentions three other options (along with the option of 33 ha land in Aarey) for the Metro 3 Carshed location: the ground in Bandra Kurla Complex, 26 Ha of land in Kalina, the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation ( MMRCL) always claims that the 33 ha land area in Aarey is the only suitable location for the Metro 3 Carshed.
In 2015 the NGO, Vanashakti, along with citizens, filed a petition in National Green Tribunal (NGT) praying that Aarey be declared a forest and an Eco-Sensitive Zone. NGT on 19th August 2015, ordered status quo in Aarey pending final decision on the case. MMRCL, in August 2017 started dumping debris in the Metro 3 Carshed area in Aarey, along with excavation and mud filling activities in the area. This was in contempt of Court orders and was highlighted at the NGT. On 14th May 2018, NGT again ordered against any dumping of debris, land reclamation and Tree Felling in Aarey pending final decision in the case. But MMRCL continues to violate court orders. They have cordoned off more area in Aarey on the opposite side of the carshed area and have started land reclamation. What initially started as destruction of 33 ha of forest land is now leading to destruction of a much bigger area. Citizens lodged complaints in Aarey Police Station against these violations of court orders. MMRCL has also evicted Adivasis from Prajapur Pada in Aarey to SRA Buildings. This is in violation with Tribal Rights. Adivasis have filed a petition in Mumbai High Court.
On 20th September 2018 Judges from NGT's Principal Bench decided that this matter of declaring Aarey a Forests does not come under NGT's jurisdiction and NGT directed the petitioners to withdraw application and approach the right Authorities. This has happened after 3 and 1/2 years long proceedings in National Green Tribunal.
Through an RTI in 2017, Vanashakti found a letter written by the Divisional Manager of Sanjay Gandhi National Park( SGNP). This letter indicates that Aarey Milk Colony was of a much larger area earlier, and that 2076 ha of land from Aarey Milk Colony was Transferred to SGNP in 1969. But the forest department claims that they do not have any land records related to Aarey Milk Colony.
The forest department, in 2015, had submitted a draft proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) to declare Aarey Milk Colony as an Eco Sensitive Zone. MMRCL moved an application with the MOEF and got 165 ha of land (1.65 sq km) from Aarey denotified from the Eco Sensitive Zone. The MOEF denotified an area of 1.65 sq km from the ESZ in December 2016. This decision has been challenged by Vanashakti in NGT through a different petition.
Already, a large part of Aarey Forest has been lost to different projects and construction activities. Citizens fear that with the entry of the Metro 3 carshed, better described as a railway service centre, the rest of this forest, spreading over 1259 ha, will be lost to construction activities for ever.
Mumbai City is already sinking because of the destruction of its water bodies, wetlands and mangroves. Loss of Forest area and destruction of the floodplain of the Mithi River in Aarey will lead to further destruction of the city and flooding in more new areas in Mumbai. Lakes , supplying drinking water to Mumbai are also located in Forest Areas. Vihar lake on the border of SGNP and Aarey.
The air quality of Mumbai will be seriously hit if 4000 full grown trees are removed from its last remaining green space,the Aarey forests. .
A Movement that started with the news of felling of 2298 trees has brought out more shocking details. MMRCL floated a tender document for felling of 3384 trees in Aarey Milk Colony in 2017. And number of trees that are in line for sacrifice is still increasing. Tribals have lost their homes and livelihood. Floodplain of Mithi River has been damaged and this city will finally lose 1.65 sq km of forest areas to construction activities if this Carshed is not shifted out of Aarey. Facts finding team of Citizens have also found letters that speak about Government granting 3 FSI on 33 ha (82.5 acres) of Aarey land. A design layout prepared by MMRCL for the Carshed area also has marked an area on 33 ha land for realestate prooject.
Citizens of Mumbai needs to decide what is more important for them. A peaceful and happy life in a place requires, Fresh Air, Good supply of Drinking water , accessible open spaces and flood free roads .
In a Costal city like Mumbai, when the entire world is suffering from the consequences of Global Warming a place like Aarey becomes extremely crucial for survival of the city.
Avinash Bali (also known as Avinash Solanki), key witness and the complainant in the case double murder of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes in 2011 has been found murdered in MIDC area at Chakala in Andheri. He had been missing for 24 hours before the body was found. The identity of the body has been confirmed and investigations are underway.
Keenan and Reuben along with their friends, including Avinash Bali had objected to the accused passing lewd remarks at the women in their group as they stood at a paan shop after dinner together. Avinash Bali had slapped Jitendra Rana. Angered, the accused went away and returned with a group of people armed with knives, sticks and cricket stumps and attacked the group. Keenan Santos was fatally injured and died soon after, while Reuben Fernandes died in intensive care later.
Avinash had taken charge and rushed his friends to hospital. He followed up on the case with the police and was the complainant. The accused were both remorseless as well as unafraid after being identified and arrested. There were reports of intimidation of witnesses and political connections of the accused. Police personnel who had come to investigate the chawl where the accused lived were attacked by residents in one instance.
Previous posts summarizing reported news on the case:
While the government promised "fast tracking" the case in the face of public anger, Jitendra Rana, Satish Sulah, Sunil Bodh and Deepak Piwal were convicted and given life imprisonment in the case in 2016.
The residents of the Akash Horizon Premises Cooperative Society Limited, located bang opposite Western Railway’s (WR) car shed at Mumbai Central (east side), have complained about constant air and noise pollution, they are suffering for nearly one decade, due to the work of maintenance of trains, in the car shed adjacent to their building.
The testing, recharging and maintenance of Rajdhani. Shatabdi and Duronto trains is done in the open shed, touching the compound wall of the Aakash building. While shunting of coaches/locomotives and testing of power cars generates a lot of noise, a lot of smoke is emanated by the diesel generators, which straightway flows in the flats of the residents. The generators also cause vibration, due to which the compound wall of the building was collapsed some time back.
The work also causes financial loss to the railways since it has been using outdated technology. The testing can be done through less expensive electric power generators, as against age-old diesel operated generators. The diesel is much more expensive, Sulaiman Bhimani, President, Citizen Justice Forum said.
Mirza Baig, Hon Gen Secretary of the society, who has been following up the matter with WR since long, in a letter dated 5 December 2017, to Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), has pointed out that the railways recharge generators day in and day out causing considerable amount of noise and sound pollution.
The 19 story building accommodates over 1000 people, most of whom are senior citizens. The work goes on till 4 AM disturbing peace in the area, Baig has stated requesting WR to take corrective step to stop this nuisance. The “Equinox Labs” in its report dated 17 March 2016, had stated that the noise level in the shed was 94.4 decibels as against specified limit of 55 decibels. If the railways fail to take corrective action, then we will be left with no option but to approach the court, Baig said.
Additionally, BMC’s Nair Hospital, catering to lakhs of patients, which is in close proximity of the yard, and thousands of residents in the neighbourhood also has to bear the noise and air pollution emanating from the yard.
Earlier, in response to a query under RTI by the resident Laeek Chunawala, ADME (BCT), WR vide letter dated 31 December 2015, had admitted that the department had not obtained any NOC for the work. Similarly DEE/RS/BCT vide letter dated 7 January 2016 had stated that the EMU shed is for day to day maintenance of EMU rakes and is not covered under Factories Act 1948.
Way back in 2009, the then WR GM R N Verma, in a letter dated 4 December 2009 to former MP and Minister Milind Deora, had stated that the rescheduling of the work of testing power cars has been done so that the residents are list disturbed. But of no avail.
Under article 21 of constitution of India, every citizen has right to live in clean and peaceful environment and it is the responsibility of state to provide it. It is expected of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to give relief to citizens, who include senior citizens, women and children, Bhimani said. There was no response to detailed email seeking clarification sent to WR DRM.
Those seashells you see in shops and people's home? Turns out they are real. And they may have been alive when collected. A mind boggling article in the National Geographic describes in "Seashell souvenirs are killing protected marine life", the thesis project of Amey Bansod, who initially came to Kanyakumari to study the livelihood of shell artisans, and discovered, to his horror, an industry of stripping protected marine life by the tons.
Which of us hasn't seen sea shell souvenirs? From small jewellery to religious conches, sea shells are pretty and inexpensive enough to be metaphors - "kawdiyion ke daam" (for the price of cowries - shells of sea snails) is an Indian version for "dirt cheap".
India has traditionally had uses for some kinds of shells. Cowry shells were currency in ancient times. They are used in traditional board games, or by astrologers. Conch shells are used in religious rituals and often considered auspicious (or maybe an old fashion trend?) in decorating homes. While I was aware that sea shells are used in decoration, for some absurd reason, I always imagined that most of the cheaper shells we get were plastic. Though I also remember wondering why anyone would make shells when they could be found for free on beaches.
The naive person that I was, I firmly believe in "Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints" - I got to the ripe old age of 41 without even realizing that all the shells decorating book binders and ornaments, being sold on ebay for aquariums and home decoration, being used for religious purposes.... THEY ARE ALL REAL! We are literally surrounded by casual celebration of the deaths of the mollusks that inhabited them.
Turns out that they are indeed not manufactured, because they are simply taken in mind boggling quantities from the sea and beaches and sent ahead to be processed. We are talking of 30 to 100 tons of sea shells being processed through one factory alone per month and 30,000 to 40,000 workers in the Kanyakumari area alone. The larger scale of destruction given the size of our coastline is mind boggling. This includes endangered species protected by CITES, which India is obliged under international agreement to protect.
However, expecting government officials to recognize endangered species or enforce harvesting limits is not a simple thing. Recognizing many rare species takes an expert and fudging limits on any exploitation that can't talk back or file lawsuits is routine in India, whether forests or sand or marine life.
But when a live creature turns into one among many in tons and tons of shells harvested to feed our endless greed for decoration, it is cruelty for little more than casual amusement. While some harvesting is inevitable given their beauty and the art they help create, there needs to be some rational enforcement to protect these animals from simply being killed wholesale.
Background- Cantonments & Military Stations in India
Cantonments derive their name from Swiss Cantons, or districts and were set up by the British in India for entirely different reasons. When the British troops arrived in India, they fell sick very often due to malaria, dysentery and other infectious and waterborne diseases. These diseases also took a toll on Indian troops. Thus it was decided to create Army cantonments well away from cities, often in the wilderness, at the very outskirts of city limits. The additional advantage of such a move was that parades, training and marches with horse’s, mules etc would not inconvenience the local population. It also helped in keeping the native soldiers isolated from the local developments, thereby ensuring their apolitical character.
It is to the credit of the Army that these outlying areas where they were shunted away, became islands of excellence and oasis of greenery; the modern equivalent of smart cities. Today, they are the lungs and biodiversity havens of most cities.
The first cantonment was established in Barrackpore in 1765 and the last one created recently was Ajmer. There are a total of 62 cantonments, mostly in Central and Western Command. These are distinct from military stations which number about 2000 and are exclusive for the army. The current order on road opening thankfully does not apply to military stations.
The Army is fully considerate of the needs of the Nation and has not only allowed access to cantonments but also given away prime defence land for public good. The Delhi metro link from Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi going to the airport is entirely built on defence land given by the army. So is the Dwarka flyover coming to Palam and beyond. The new road to airport in Hyderabad and Chennai has been given access through defence land. Cantonments have also parted with hundreds of acres of land to expand airports in places like Gwalior and many more.
While Cantonment roads leading to civilian areas have always been open to public, however, internal roads where military units, installations & HQ are located cannot be declared public roads & thrown open to everyone without ensuring mandatory security checks.
Military areas of Cantonments have been defined as Prohibited areas & are not under cCantonments Board
Administration of Defence Land in Military Cantonments is governed by the Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. These have been notified by Govt on the authority of powers conferred upon it underCantonments Act. Though the Cantonments Act 2006 has now replaced earlier Cantonments Act 1924, the CLAR have remained unchanged. Section 4 of CLAR defines Classification of Cantonment Lands. Class A & B Lands which are required for Military purposes are not vested with Cantonment Boards. Cantonment Boards are vested with Class C Lands which mainly comprise of civilian areas/ non-military areas. Hence, Cantonment Boards govern only those areas of Cantonment which are located on Class C Lands.
On the other hand, Class A & B Lands are governed by Military Authorities in accordance with provisions contained in Officials Secrets Act & Defence Services Regulations. As per Section 2(8)(a) of Official Secrets Act 1923, all Military areas/ establishments fall under the category of Prohibited places.
Trespassing/entering into Prohibited areas without valid Identity & Purpose is a criminal offence under Section 3 & 5 of Officials Secrets Act. It is punishable under CrPC, as clarified in Section 12 of OS Act.
Armed Forces are empowered under Officials Secrets Act 1923
Armed Forces personnel have been empowered under Sections 7& 8 of OS Act 1923 to implement the security provisions in Military areas as applicable to Prohibited areas. Interfering with members of Armed Forces while implementing provisions of Officials Secret Act is a punishable offence under Section 7 & 8 of said Act.
Procedure to be adopted for Security of Military areas/establishments/ installations
Procedure to be adopted by Armed Forces personnel for ensuring security of military areas/ installations has been prescribed by Govt in Paras 1160, 1161 & Appendix AD of Defence Services Regulations 1987 (Revised). Armed Forces are empowered to establish check posts, barriers etc & ascertain identity of visitors before allowing them entry into military areas of Cantonments. Relevant extracts from DSR are placed below.
Court Judgements upholding authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments
The legal validity of CLAR 1937, inapplicability of Cantonments Board Act 2006 over military areas, applicability of Officials Secrets Act 1923 over military areas & the applicability of authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments has been unambiguously upheld by a Bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court in its Judgement dated 26 September 2014. AP High Court had ruled on a collection of writ petitions and PILs against the closure of the 14 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment mentioned by the Defence Minister. Dismissing all the petitions, the Hon’ble High Court had ruled that these closures were valid and within defined powers of the Military authorities. On the other hand, it took cognisance of the fact that petitioners wanted to use these roads “for convenience or because of their better motorability”, a matter that “required immediate attention of the civilian authorities” who should “take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subject to any inconvenience.” It further stated that “the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner.” Since the Cantonment Act of 2006 is cited in above judgement, it is clear that the ruling did not consider any irregularity vis a vis the same. It’s on the strength of this Judgement that the 14 roads had been closed in Secunderabad despite orders by MoD.
Illegal settlements/ colonies/ structures adjacent to military installations
As per Section 7 of Works of Defence Act 1903, constructions are prohibited upto a specified distance from perimeter of notified Defence installations for security considerations. However, over the years, a huge number of illegal settlements/ structures have come up in notified areas. Though the Cantonments were originally set up away from habitation, these have now become prime locations due to growth of towns/ cities around them. Many of the illegal settlements/ structures belong to politically influential people. The case in point is ongoing construction of illegal structure on the land acquired by ruling Party leader in Nagrota in J&K next to ammunition dump, despite objections by Army.
Encroachment of Defence Land
Presently over 11,000 acres of Defence Land is under illegal encroachments. Total value of encroached land runs in thousands of crores of rupees. Most of these encroachers have links with political parties/ political personalities. State wise details of encroachments as informed to Parliament in August 2014 are given below:-
Illegal occupation/ conversion of Grand Old Bungalows (OGB)
There are 2724 OGBs whose lease period has already expired. The lease holders were barred from carrying out any additions/alterations/conversions. However, most of these have been converted into commercial establishments, hotels, including shopping malls. Most of these have changed many hands and are presently in the hands of influential political/ business personalities. Despite Hon’ble SC ruling in May 2014 clearing all legal hurdles for reclaiming all OGBs, officials with vested interests in Govt have not allowed taking over of these Bungalows till date. Resumption sanction has been accorded only in 660 cases, of which only 508 have been physically Resumed till date.
Loss of Revenue due to Non Renewal of Lease
There are number of Govt properties on Defence land which are on lease for commercial/ recreational/ residential purposes. The lease deed of these properties has not been renewed for decades deliberately by DGDE Officials. In addition, there are numerous properties which are without any lease agreement. All this has been resulting in huge annual revenue loss to Govt, running in thousands of crores. In Delhi alone, this loss amounts to hundreds of crores annually.
Who is Responsible for Encroachments, Loss of Revenue & Gross Mismanagement of Defence Land & Defence Properties
Over 99% of cases of encroachments, loss of revenue & mismanagement of Defence Land pertains to Class B/ C Lands. As per CLAR 1937 & Cantonments Board Act 2006, DG Defence Estates (DGDE) is responsible for management of these Lands/ properties. Encroachments & Mismanagement of Defence Lands has been well documented in annual CAG Reports. However, encroachments & mismanagement cases have only been increasing with each passing year. Relevant Extracts from CAG Reports are placed below.
How serious is the nexus between DGDE, MoD Officials & Encroachers
Unable to control encroachments, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was tasked in 2010 to carry out a systems study & detailed analysis of management of Defence Lands. CGDA in its Report concluded that there is deep nexus between DGDE Officials and encroachers & that this nexus has become so entrenched that it is not possible to break free. It has resulted in systematic loot of Govt land. It found DGDE failing in all four of its functions- audit, accounting, acquisition & financial management. Hence, CGDA recommended for disbandment of DGDE & prosecution of its officials.
Events leading to current illegal orders by MoD
While CGDA recommended prosecution of DGDE officials & disbandment of DGDE in 2010, nothing actually happened on ground due to their nexus with MoD officials. As a result, encroachments kept increasing & Govt coffers kept bleeding of its revenue. In May 2014, Hon’ble SC delivered a historic judgement related to Old Grand Bungalows, paving way for Govt to reclaim all 2724 OGBs. The present occupants of these Bungalows include MPs, MLAs (from all parties), civil servants & prominent businessmen. In Sep 2014, Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh delivered another Judgement, clarifying that jurisdiction of Cantonment Board does not extent to military areas of Cantonments & that LMA is empowered to close roads in military areas. The Court directed State Govt to provide alternate roads to civil population. In the same year the issue of encroachment of Defence Land was raised in Parliament. In a written reply to Lok Sabha MP Poonam Mahajan in August 2014, then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that around 11,455 acres of defence land had been encroached. Following these reports, Common Cause, an NGO based out of Delhi, along with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the unauthorised use and encroachment of defence land. The petition alleged that “crass mismanagement of Defence lands is intrinsically linked to irregularities, illegalities and corruption”. The petition relied heavily on CAG reports, and is still sub judice. The last order passed by the Court was on August 25, 2017.
Hidden Agenda behind Opening of Internal Cantonment Roads
Instead of implementing the SC Judgement for reclaiming OGBs & AP High Court Judgement for creating alternate routes, the local MPs of Cantonment areas built an alliance of interest with local representatives of areas adjoining the 62 cantonments. This group seems to have started the whole discussion de novo once Ms Sitharaman was appointed the Defence Minister. She & her husband are known to own residential & commercial properties around Hyderabad-Secunderabad Cantonments.
The Local Military Authorities (LMAs) have been regularly raising these issues. The market value of encroached land & properties runs in hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees. However, corruption is so deep rooted in Defence Estates & MoD that, instead of implementing Court Judgements, these Officials by using their powerful nexus have now been able to force the Govt to give them overriding powers thereby making the LMAs irrelevant. Unrestricted opening of Cantonments roads is one such decision pushed by these Officials at the behest of encroachers & illegal occupiers of Defence land & Defence properties to facilitate their consolidation. National security considerations matter least to these looters of Govt land. This is likely to further facilitate encroachments & consolidation illegally occupied properties. See the details of parleys held by RM with these eople without involvement of Military Authorities.
Illegality of Orders by RM
The Orders by RM are in contravention to provisions of Official Secrets Act, Cantonments Act, CLAR & Defence Services Regulations. Not only do these instructions completely ignore the AP High Court Judgement of September 2014 and subsequent deliberations and the decision by her predecessor Mr Parrrikar, but also subsume the powers of the GOC-in-C to be the final authority for closing any roads as laid down in the Act of 2006. RM had repeatedly quoted provisions of Cantonments Act which are not applicable to military areas of Cantonments. The instructions by RM for unconditional opening of all Cantonment roads quoting inapplicable Section of Cantonments Act clearly amounts to contempt of court. These have far reaching adverse implications not only on Cantonment Security but also on attempts to control encroachment of Govt land. AF pers have been performing their bonafide military duty when controlling entry into military areas for last so many decades. Placing of of check posts/ barriers etc & ascertaining of identity of visitors is part of prescribed procedures. The instructions by RM have been issued after consultations with DGDE officials, MoD Officials & local area representatives, who have vested interests in opening of Cantonment
Roads. Whether she was misled or she has been deliberately misleading the Nation remains to be seen.