The first policy initiative of new Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to revive the contentious Mumbai Metro car-shed in the eco-sensitive Aarey Colony forests kicked off a major controversy here on Friday.
In the first cabinet meeting after their swearing-in on Thursday, Shinde and Fadnavis decided to give a push to various infrastructure projects, including taking measures to bring back the Mumbai Metro-3 car-shed project to the Aarey Colony jungles.
Former CM Uddhav Thackeray and his son and ex-Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray had scrapped the project and shifted it to the Kanjurmarg salt pans site - which the then Opposition BJP had opposed strongly.
Later, following issues pertaining to the Kanjurmarg land ownership raised by the Centre, the car-shed for the crucial 33-km long Metro line remains stuck in litigation.
Raising the issue on Friday, Shiv Sena President Thackeray called upon the new regime "not to vent its anger against him on the people of Mumbai" on the issue.
"With folded hands I request them on behalf of the people of Mumbai not to bring back the Metro car-shed back to Aarey Colony forests. It was in the interest of Mumbai... Please cancel the proposal to save the city's environment. There is a lot of wildlife there, and I am feeling very sad about this," Thackeray appealed to Shinde-Fadnavis.
Referring to the Kanjurmarg land given by the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), he said that even that stretch of land belongs to the people and must be put to good use for the masses.
State Congress President Nana Patole warned that shifting the car-shed to Mumbai would be detrimental to the health of the people and the city.
He pointed out how the environmentalists and the people of Mumbai had strongly protested the car-shed at Aarey Colony and even staged demonstrations against the earlier BJP government headed by Fadnavis in October 2019 when over 2,000 trees were chopped down in a single night using the police force.
"Subsequently, the MVA government decided against having the car-shed there and identified the alternative Kanjurmarg site, but there were hurdles created by the Centre and the Opposition BJP," Patole said, while reiterating that the party is not against against development but it should not be at the cost of the ecology.
Slamming the Shinde-Fadnavis move, the Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Clyde Crasto said when so many important issues need to be considered in Maharashtra, the new government took the decision to move the car-shed back to Aarey Colony.
"This is recreating a problem solved by the MVA government. The green lung of Mumbai is in danger once again, what will he gain," Crasto asked.
One of the last surviving green spots in the city, the lush Aarey Colony is spread over more than 3,000 acres with 27 tribal villages, harbours rich flora and fauna, and serves as a buffer between Mumbai and the adjacent Sanjay Gandhi National Park.