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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.

Mumbai, 30th August, 2016: To recover its Rs 100 crore project loan to RNA Exotica before it becomes a bad debt like BOI's loan and SBI's loan, Axis Bank is pressing the panic-button and threatening flat-buyers to immediately pre-pay large amounts (like Rs 25-50 lakh), forgetting about slab-completion schedules. Axis Bank has recently written strangely worded letters to RNA's Skyline Construction Co in respect of each and every flat (see specimen), saying that unless the entire remaining amount of the flat's consideration is remitted to its designated account, RNA Corp will not be allowed to sell the said flat to the name of the buyer. These letters, which are supposedly "No Objection Certificates" for the sale of flats to the purchasers, are being lovingly forwarded by RNA Corp to the individual flat-buyers with a tiny email (see example). Axis Bank's relayed letter is like holding a gun to the heads of helpless flat-buyers and saying: "Pay everything right now! Or else you will never get your flat!" And RNA Corp's forwarding email seems to suggest, "Yes, forget about installment payments based on slab-completion schedule. Just pay 100% right now".

In fact, Axis Bank's letter has come as a jolt to many buyers who were unaware that their flat was mortgaged by RNA to Axis Bank! Hundreds of RNA Exotica's buyers are suffering from sleepless nights, trying to figure out what course of action will be in their long-term interest. "Should we just pay the remaining amount to Axis Bank, so that it will release the lien over our flats? Or should we continue to pay in installments according to slab completion stages? Or should we go to Consumer Court? Or Civil Court? Or High Court? Or what?!!!" They are at a loss as to what to do next!

Axis Bank Threat

[NOTE: In our earlier article titled How RNA Corp taught ExoticArithmentic to Axis Bank, we revealed how Skyline Construction Co mortgaged unsold flats of RNA Exotica in 2011 and 2013 based on hugely inflated and completely unverifiable figures. Axis Bank gave the builder a Rs 75 cr line of credit in March 2011, and beefed it up to Rs 100 crore in March 2013, although the value of the collateral fell sharply.

Also, in RNA Exotica: Nine ways buyers got screwed, we analyzed the negative implications of the sale-purchase agreement.]

Now let us analyze the letter written by Axis Bank, supposedly addressed to Skyline Construction Co., but actually addressed to the flat-buyer directly. The subject line says, "No Objection for Release of Charge for Sale of Flat no. XXX in Building no. B Wing of RNA Exotica in favour of Mr YYY." The letter goes on to say:

  • RNA Exotica has been mortgaged exclusively to Axis Bank for a sanctioned line of credit of Rs 100 crores.
  • The said flat no. XXX is sold/proposed to be sold to Mr. YYY for a total consideration of Rs 1.8 crore (or some such amount), and that "We have been requested to issue our NO Objection for the said sale".
  • "We wish to inform you that we have No Objection for Release of Charge on the said premises to enable you to sell the said premises to said Mr YYY... subject to the specific condition that the total consideration mentioned above shall be deposited in designated account no ABCXYZ maintained with the Bank. Provided that if the Bank is not in receipt of the said sum of Rs 29.26 lakh in the designated amount as aforementioned, this NOC shall not have any effect and shall be deemed to be cancelled... and the charges over the said premises shall not stand released."

No, this is not really a "No Objection" letter; it is actually an Objection letter from Axis Bank to the flat-buyer with whom it really has no direct connection, and as such, it is illegal. As Axis Bank has given a project loan to the builder and not a home-loan to the buyer, it has no business communicating with the home-buyers.

IMPLICATIONS OF AXIS BANKS'S LETTER:

  1. REGISTERING OF SALE-PURCHASE AGREEMENTS MAY BE HELD UP. Home-buyers who already have a registered sale-purchase agreement are slightly more safe. But, for those buyers who only have an Allotment Letter from the builder, this letter implies that they will not be allowed to register their agreement until they have paid 100% of the consideration amount and got an NOC from Axis Bank.
  2. CONFLICTS WITH HOME-LOAN LENDING BANKS. Home buyers who have taken a home-loan from another bank may be in a fix. Their bank will insist on releasing funds only according to slab-completion, and therefore, they will never get Axis Bank's NOC until the final payment is made... and so, they may have to wait till that stage for registering their agreement.
  3. HUGE PRESSURE ON SELF-FINANCED BUYERS. On the other hand, home-buyers who did not take a home-loan may feel under pressure to pay the entire remaining amount of Rs 25 to 50 lakhs, or even more, all at once. Do they have the capacity to pay such amounts immediately?
  4. PAYING 100% NOW MEANS BEING AT THE BUILDER'S MERCY. If home-buyers succumb to the temptation of making 100% payment at this stage, then what financial power do they retain in their hands? After paying 100%, they are totally at the builder's mercy. Currently, construction activity is going on at the 33rdfloor slab. Even if one assumes that the building is only 35 floors (and not 40 floors), a huge amount of construction work still remains, namely brick-work, plumbing and drainage, electricals, plastering, flooring, interiors, fixtures, lifts, stairs and common amenities such as clubhouse, etc. etc. At least two more years of work -- or about 50% of the work – is still remaining to be done before the flat-owners can get possession. What if Skyline Construction Co stops work and claims that it has run out of money? What if it demands more money – say another 20 lakh per flat – to complete the project? Going to court may not sound like such a good option then, and flat buyers will be left with no option except to pay whatever the builder asks.

What is the solution to all this? One possible solution could be that flat buyers should pay this amount to Axis Bank, but only after filing a civil case and after RNA Corp gives an undertaking to the court that they will complete the project within a deadline. Groups of flat-buyers are reportedly planning to take some such step, although these discussions are still at a preliminary stage.

Aagey dekhiye, iss dhaaravahik ki Ugly kadee!

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY

Krishnaraj Rao

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WITH MAJOR INPUTS FROM

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