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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.

Not sure how to do this, given that this is a data free hatchet job by Manu Joseph. So it isn't like he is claiming that his absurd claims are backed by data to begin with. Still, because I'm irritated enough, doing a limited take down of yet another attempt to trivialize the gravity and causes of farmer suicides with the Parliament in session (during or just before Parliament sessions is the season for hatchet jobs on farmers - probably to improve acceptance for anti-farmer policies coming up?).

All quotes from Manu Joseph's fantasy piece on farmer suicides in the Hindustan Times.

If an active cricket ground exists, it would be watered on most days, or it would die. So why this fuss before the tournament? Also, the calls for the cancellation of matches are comical for a simple reason — it is on the days of the matches that the grounds are not heavily watered.

Frankly, I agree with Manu Joseph that there are bigger problems than cricket in the face of drought. For example, the state allocation of water prioritizing industry over domestic consumption in blatant disregard for law or rights and a court limits (not cuts off, mind you) water to breweries long after people have spent months making careers out of seeking water to survive. However, the idea that a cricket ground consumes less water when there is a match is ignorance of the highest order, because he seems to think that facilities for a crowd of spectators and worse, media and teams camping out (who in our VIP culture won't be assigned a couple of buckets a day) don't consume water and all the water in a cricketing event is actually only the water poured on a lawn.

At this point, Manu Joseph dismisses the first veteran of his piece. Sunil Gavaskar.

Sunil Gavaskar, whose relationship with the BCCI, it is reported, has collapsed and whose lucrative contract with the board may end, wrote in his column, “The issue of drought is one such where many lives are at stake.” (True). “I am no expert on ground and pitch preparation…” (True) “…

What Manu Joseph does not realize is that Manu Joseph is no expert on ground and pitch preparation either and does not bother with any disclaimers about his lack of knowledge. Probably because it would involve not writing this absurd piece to begin with. Gavaskar may not be an expert on ground and pitch preparation, but Gavaskar knows cricketing events and probably realizes they are not as water free as Manu Joseph's piece is fact free.

This is a mystifying exaggeration — the suggestion that if matches are held in three cricket grounds in Maharahstra the lives of farmers would be at risk. But it is a popular view.

Absolutely no explanation for why Manu Joseph calls this an exaggeration. No mention of available water that people are ignoring and dying as a hobby. No mention of how much difference in water consumption there would actually be and what constitutes exaggerated. Absolutely no evidence anywhere that Manu Joseph has been to drought hit areas, studied so much as what drought means to reach his expert opinion. Manu Joseph has water in his tap and people are making too much of a fuss. And we actually have newspapers giving space to this entitled garbage. An interesting question of how editorial decisions happen in corporate media. Forget the stand taken by an article, but do newspapers no longer require claims to be backed by evidence?

It is not a popular view, BTW. Most people hate it. 60 kilometers from the heart of Bombay, I get half an hour of water - non-potable - a day. I earn enough to make ends meet and have the luxury  of home delivery for drinking water. Men, women, kids from our oh-so-posh looking society are routinely found at a water filtration gig round the corner, filling 10 liter cans for 3 rupees and ferrying the water home. I am nowhere near the officially drought hit regions of Maharashtra, where taps have run dry right after the monsoon and people have been ferrying water for MONTHS already. Perhaps Manu Joseph would like to ferry water for a week in an air conditioned car before calling these concerns exaggerated or merely popular opinion (as opposed to his fact free expert opinion, I suppose).

Perhaps the fact that many of the deaths from drought are from drowning may prove Manu Joseph's point that there is plenty of water and people are making a fuss? There are kids drowning in the silt in water reservoirs. Falling into wells. Kids who aren't in school to begin with, because they are needed to find and bring water home, right along with the adults. How many of these kids will need to search harder, walk farther? How many adults will die of heat stroke and heart attacks as the search for water makes them wander more in temperatures regularly over 40 degrees? There is already risk of water riots as desperation grows. How many of the quests for water will be made longer with tankers supplying water to desperate localities moved to lucrative providing for cricketing events? [link added because hours after I write this, an expose shows how water for the distressed gets sold to whoever can pay for it]

There is much veneration of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune was that their grandfathers or fathers ejected their progeny from the agrarian economy.

There is also much dismissal of the plight of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune is to be so comfortable in life as to see no difference in resources spent on entertainment and food. A lot of these overnight experts are those who find their agricultural know-how based on specific facts and arguments cherry picked and promoted by industries who would prefer to marginalize farmers. Who lack any basic knowledge on the subject to know when they are being fed handpicked bullshit or how they can verify it. Whose world view is so limited to their personal experience that they have little but contempt for anyone wanting attention or sacrifices or even inconvenience for problems that they don't face.

[Ignoring the exhibition of incompetence on diet except for one line, because it will derail the main track of this piece here. If you are interested, comment away and I'll do a separate piece on this other glorious piece of logic.]

The human body does not require rice and wheat. In fact it does very well without grain.

I challenge Manu Joseph to provide details of one meal that someone under our poverty line could afford that does not involve grains or meat (asked to give up just before this quote). Because dear friend, if rural India could afford a diet of nuts, they wouldn't be desperately running after water tankers, they'd order home delivery like you and me. And if you think people can survive without grains or meat or nuts - wait.... lemme guess. you're talking of a desk jockey lifestyle like yours without much need for energy? Cabbage your way out of that paunch? BTW, vegetable growing needs more water 🙁 Ask me. I have 3 balcony gardens for food and watering in summer is a pain. The grasses grow much easier than these lush beauties (I assume you know grains grow on grasses).

There is more, but I'm bored now. Ending with this masterpiece of propaganda (the art of repeating a falsehood till it starts sounding true)

Let me repeat an assertion this column made earlier while arguing that farmer suicides are primarily a depression story where poverty only plays a role:

“In a country where most people can be termed ‘farmers’, it is not anomalous that most people who kill themselves would be ‘farmers’. In fact, what is anomalous is that a huge majority of farmers who commit suicide are male. If both official and activist statistics are considered, it would appear that women in impoverished farming communities are among the least likely Indians to commit suicide. Activists who ascribe social, economic and political reasons for suicides would never be able to explain why.’ In most nations of the world, including India, the number of men who commit suicide is several times more than the number of women. this pattern is reflected in the gender ratio of ‘farmer suicides’.

Not just activists, any sane person can't get this logic. That depression is the cause of suicide, but not loans or policies and political maliciousness. I mean, why would you be depressed if your months of physical labour resulted in loss? Why would you be depressed if you couldn't repay loans? Why would you want policies to cover your risks? This logic can only come from someone living in a "normal" where hardwork is not necessary to survive, a good way of dealing with loans you don't repay is pulling strings to get them restructured and bailouts are necessary to save jobs, so not like you want any favors.

No matter how many times you repeat it, fact is, most people in India are not farmers. This bogus statistic is based on some expert claim made by another columnist on economics who found his agricultural gene just before a Parliamentary session with a GM food decision coming up and has been copied by every overnight agricultural columnist whose sole agricultural writings come when policy decisions are up for grabs and have never spoken to the family of a farmer who committed suicide or, for that matter, laid feet on agricultural soil for their journalism. Not seen a single person who actually has knowledge of the subject ever buy this nonsense.

The reason for that is that the IDIOT interpreted 54% of Indian population being sustained by the agricultural SECTOR (this includes everything from distributors of pesticides to tractor mechanics and wholesalers of grain) as farmers. Whereas, the fact is that the farmer suicide problem is largely between small and marginalized farmers, whom we are losing rapidly, even as the number of suicides increases in a shrinking population. But this bogus argument remains popular among subsequent idiots who don't verify the bullshit they are fed with when they have propaganda to peddle. You are not the first, and you will not be the last. The activist types don't give a fuck, but bogus data pisses me off, so I suppose I must call this out every time I see it.

Disclosure: Not commenting on the comment about P. Sainath because conflict of interest. I am happy to share that since yesterday, I am on the payroll of the People's Archive of Rural India founded by Sainath, which sadly now will seem like I am defending him in situations like these, when it would just be objecting to rubbish before.

Note: I normally reference and provide data for my posts, but I believe a fact free article at least requires a rebuttal where you have to do the hard work yourself to verify things I say and discover a hundred more horrors I didn't say.

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and so on.

With minor variations, the story is the same. A miracle fix for our country's water woes. Affordable drinking water. And so on. Sarvajal currently not making a profit is seen as a halo, but creating a market out of a fundamental need is hardly a loss making proposition, so I'll save my tears of concern here.

Most of the articles are very upfront that this is not an NGO, but a for profit company Sarvajal backed by Piramal Enterprises. The era of purchasing drinking water and praising the lord that it is cheap, is here. Except, none of the articles have noticed it in the flood of clear, drinking water. Paid for by an ATM card, of course.

Animation of dripping water
Animation of dripping water

Considering that there is an abundance of people who think lie a certain ex-CEO of Nestle and see water as a commodity that must be paid for, rather than a basic human right, I'm not going to get into that ugly debate here. I'm going to raise several other questions about this miracle.

  1. This company digs bore wells (or makes its franchisees dig borewells) to access water to treat through reverse osmosis to sell. Underground water aquifiers are a national resource and the indiscriminate use of them, particularly in a way that spoils the quality of water is a crime against the country. Even if you pay people to use the water instead of selling it cheap.
  2. The Sarvajal plants are using the waste water from the reverse osmosis to recharge the ground water. I have no idea why they are doing this, but then I have no idea what else they could do with brine either. Offer it as a substitute in processes that need salt water? My guess is that "recharging the ground water" is just a pretty term for treating a borewell like your gutter, because the brine from the Reverse Osmosis contains the Totally Dissolved Solids from the water that got cleaned as well. In other words, if you are operating on a 50% efficiency (the plants are capable of 65% according to the blog of someone who worked there), then the waste water is TWICE as problematic as the water you began with. Dumping that into the water source makes zero sense.
  3. But it isn't like these concerns haven't been raised. A Business standard article from January says: D C Garg, hydrologist at the district groundwater department, says this process may increase the TDS content in groundwater. But Anuj Sharma, chief operating officer of Sarvajal, argues that only 0.5 per cent of the extracted water is used for drinking. Most is used for agriculture, shows groundwater extraction data. The rather casual answer is worrisome, because it ignores the fact that the Sarvajal plant will make the water worse for those who are not their clients and still use ground water for drinking. A sort of self-fulfilling business if the purification plant is making the water worse than it used to be, so that it can't be used without their technology. This is rather alarming when you are speaking of the water of an entire area at large. The casual dismissal of concerns about water quality should raise alarms.
  4. But can the 99.5% of water used for agriculture purposes be dismissed so easily? An irrigation experiment with saline water at different concentrations was carried out over a 7-year period on the same clay–silty soil in the Volturno Valley at Vitulazio to evaluate long-term effects of irrigation with saline water on crops and soil. The abstract of the research paper ends with the following paragraph. Irrigation with saline water led to an increase in ESP and a degradation of the soil physical properties that were estimated indirectly by measuring aggregate stability in water (IASW). The index of aggregate stability in water for the top layer (0–0.15 m) was inversely correlated to the ESP values, even after the leaching due to the autumn–spring rainfall. Can a business be allowed to risk this for the entire region?
  5. While drinking water does not need approval from environment ministry, how can it be that adding undrinkable water to the water aquifer is not prohibited? The Environment Ministry needs to answer for why it allows clear degradation of the quality of the water across the country so that dependence on commercial methods increases.

Sudden epidemic of Solar-Powered ATMs in newsFinally, I think it is not about the cost of the water, but the responsibility of the water. Citizenship of the country cannot be divorced from the right to life essential resources in it. It is not a question of who provides the cheaper water, but a question of the responsibility for providing clean water being transferred to individuals without access to water bodies, so that they end up becoming purchasers of a fundamental need. It is a different matter if the Reverse Osmosis unit were owned by a village to provide water for people in it and the resulting degradation of the water table were accepted by the residents of the area jointly.

This is also a convenient excuse for the government to abdicate its responsibility to ensure sustainable water distribution across the country and hand over more and more of this precious resources into the control of corporations. The low price is the lure, but the destination is still the abdication of your right to clean drinking water. The destination is yet another place where people buy a product in the place of what they had for free.

Sudden epidemic of Solar-Powered ATMs in newsAlso, it is not true that extracting ground water is the best choice for drinking water. Rainwater harvesting is a far superior method of collecting and storing drinking water that needs no processing to be drinkable. Rainwater harvesting is also an urgent need in a country that is expected to be mostly water scarce in another couple of decades. Depleting ground water is a dangerous way of getting water, as depleted tables will mean the need to sink borewells deeper and deeper. Ground water is also not infinite, and reckless extraction will result in wells running dry.

To base a method of substituting a government responsibility with a product that is created through a shared resource and that damages the shared resource in the long run cannot really be seen as a long term solution. Yet, more and more areas are buying bottled water for drinking. Sarvajal is planning an expansion, as are other "brands" of water, but there is little news on rainwater harvesting, sustainability, pollution control or equitable distribution of water that puts life over industry.

Faced with droughts every year, we continue with our reckless worship of development that boils down to  commodification of public resources in an extremely short sighted manner. The government simply does not care to monitor hens that lay golden eggs - be it taxes, or providing the people an alternative to revolting against their theft of natural resources.

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It had rung fifty kinds of alarms in my head when I first read the story without even knowing what would follow that Tarun Sehrawat drank what was clearly bad water straight without boiling or disinfecting it in any way.

I have certainly done my share of putting my mouth directly to a stream and drinking in the apline meadows of the Himalaya - like my horses, but I have also boiled water that was supposed to be for drinking in other places. It is about knowing enough to make an educated guess. To a large extent, it is also about developing immunity. I dare say the direct drinking from streams may not be as safe for me now. The story made me think that they were lucky to get away with it - little knowing that they didn't get away with it.

There is no doubt that the issues raised by Tehelka are very important. The general condition of water and sanitation and health facilities in the red corridor (and non red corridor) leave much to be desired. There is a desperate need for medications, clean water and more. This is a known problem for India, and the conditions of Tarun Sehrawat's death made it even more starkly visible.

However, the issues raised by journalists like Rahul Pandita or Aditya Raj Kaul among others are important. And reading Rahul Pandita's account in particular made me realize that his knowledge, if available to others can save lives. Conflict journalism is a drastically different environment for the newcomer with unknown pitfalls that can be avoided if pointed out.

I am not a journalist, but I have done a heck of a lot of traveling in the wilderness and one basic rule is keeping an eye open for what is safe. If people from a village are desperate for medicines, that is a fairly huge clue to not take risks with infection, because where locals cannot cope with local infections, an outsider is guaranteed to be hit worse - and it can be avoided. But I learned that. I certainly didn't think to look for such clues when I began.

I am astonished that the journalists were not vaccinated, or on anti-malarials, did not carry enough water purification resources, did not bail out on running out of water, did not take basic precautions with contaminated water, did not have effective shelter from the elements or mosquitoes, did not begin preventative measures on return, did not take initial illness seriously, initial doctors failed to raise the alarm... it is a chain of failures. Not only did no one think to stress safety, but no one connected the dots when BOTH reporters fell ill after a trip into a high risk area. It is less about negligence and more about the total absence of a protocol that factors in the risks. And they may be well publicized, but they are not alone, as Rahul Pandita showed.

It is important that there are basic guidelines - maybe as a part of journalism training, or a freely available "handbook" for people to refer - it is a project worth taking up.

There is a certain thing about beginners in high adventure pursuits - which I suppose conflict journalism definitely is. They thirst for challenge. This is natural and creates some amount of inclination for recklessness by creating a desire to take on problems that can be avoided. Many find that sense of achievement in wearing a thin shirt at high altitude and low temps. It takes a dialogue to cut through the excitement of an early challenge to help people see that the more problems they can avoid, the more meaningful adventures they will end up negotiating.

The initial "rough and ready" maturing into a pride in a calibrated response to the challenge was a deliberate promotion of safety standards by senior climbers guiding us. The de-haloing of recklessness is something I remember still. "No Vidyut, a good climber isn't one with scarred forearms and scraped knees, but one with no marks on them at all, because he climbs well" From being rough and tough, to understanding the insignificance of man in the environment and developing accurate estimates of vulnerability and capacity. From trying to conquer the environment to navigating it with grace, strength and humility.

Lost track of how much information came up over the years. I have no clue how many people contributed to me being alive and well today. From safety and first-aid lectures by doctor-climbers to technical safety and rescue workshops, general grapevine on new cautions learned from recent accidents... something I would have thought impossible in our unorganized sport. Yet, seniors simply started doing it, and it happened. It allowed us to expand horizons faster and in turn pass on the culture to those who followed.

There are many random factors of risk and is more a problem of lack of method than deliberate neglect. So many factors need the creation of a culture of safety. They are not one time instructions. To me, this indicates a clear need for safety norms to be established and made available as a resource.

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ENVIRONMENT DAY IN SUPREME COURT

By: Vijay Panjwani, Advocate.

 

Two different Hon’ble Benches showed interest in moving on with the dusty files placed before them for directions. In a departure from the line ‘this is not our job’ to ‘its taken years someone must do something ‘. In the first case while dealing with the custom duty non-payment problem of import of dirty hazardous waste oil in very costly stainless steel, the court’s attention was drawn to the issue of contaminated ground water in Bhopal DoW Chemical/UCC plant. After the world’s largest gas leak disaster in 1984 slowly hazardous water from the contaminated plant has contaminated ground water table. Therefore, no ground water can be drawn for human consumption. It did not take long for the court to grasp the situation begging remedial action. Considering all aspects the court directed Central Pollution Control Board to inspect the site and file an inspection report before 18th April, 2012. The report would show the cause and the extent of contamination. CPCB normally gives its recommendations in all reports for remedial measures to be taken to restore the ground water quality to comply to prescribed environmental standards. The only problem is that the order of 28th has not been uploaded in Supreme Court website till 5-30 PM Friday 30th March 2012. In the absence of copy of order no action can be taken. The next week has four days off thursday to sunday, signs of in-built delays.

Then came the turn of supply of highly polluted drinking water from Bhopal Municipal Corporation [ Nagar Nigam] to neighbourhood residents of UCC/DoW plant. It is alleged that the water pipe is laid near the open drain [Naali] carrying kitchen and bathroom waste water. The waste water leaks into the pipeline making the water supply sometimes normal and at times foul smelling. Complaints have not rectified the situation. CPCB would be looking in this too. Besides the State Government and Nagar Nigam have been directed to remove the contamination in the ground water and to ensure safe pollutant free drinking water supply within two weeks. Strangely neither counsel nor any officer was present in court during the 90 minute proceedings on behalf of the state or nagar nigam. On general inquiry from courtroom full of lawyers none answered the call and this was recorded in the order. Such unconcern and bravado is not seen every day.

In the second case a large copper manufacturer was directed to dispose of gypsum dust and gypsum sludge only to ‘need based’ customers. The purchaser has to prove an on-going road or brick making project or any other lawful use for safe disposal. The bunch of lawyers did not take it gracefully but then tomorrow is always a new day and we get back into normal mode.

END.