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Aarey: Government to Reserve 600 Acres of Aarey Land as Forest

Nearly a year after the public outcry over felling of trees in Aarey land near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in suburban Mumbai, the Maharashtra government has decided to reserve a 600-acre parcel of land out of the sprawling 3,162 acres as a reserved forest.

The decision was taken during a meeting chaired by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who said the forest would be the first example of a “huge jungle” being conserved at the centre of a megapolis, an official statement said.

Environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, forest minister Sanjay Rathod, urban development minister Eknath Shinde, chief secretary Sanjay Kumar and others also attended the meeting, the statement said.

The government has invoked Section 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, which gives them the power to “constitute any land a reserved forest”. This is done by issuing a notification in the Official Gazette. Once notified, the government has to next appoint a forest settlement officer (FSO) “to inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of any rights alleged to exist in favour of any person in or over any land comprised within such limits or in or over any forest-produce, and to deal with the same”.

The FSO has to deliberate on the issue along with the dwellers of the land, and only then, the process of notifying a land as reserved forest is completed.

Last year, in October, in the run up to the state assembly elections, Aaditya Thackeray had extended the party’s support to the protesting citizens and had protested against the proposed metro car shed in the area.

There were several protests against the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL’s) decision to construct a car shed for the Rs 32,000 crore underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor. The MMRCL had overnight cleared the site of over 2,000 trees and it had led to a widespread protest.

In November, however, when the BJP government fell and a tri-party government led by Shiv Sena came to power in the state, one of Uddhav Thackeray’s first orders as chief minister was to stay the work on the car shed.

Early this week, the chief minister, in a meeting, announced that the area would be reserved as a forest to safeguard the rights of Adivasis living here. Over 10,000 people live in 27 Adivasi hamlets in this eco-sensitive zone. The area earmarked for the car shed, however, is excluded from the reserved land. The government in its statement has said that the decision on the excluded land will be taken after seeking suggestions and objections from citizens.

The statement further said that constructions of all types, roads – slums, Adivasi pockets and government facilities – will be excluded from the first phase of the initiative, the statement said.

The slums within the area will be rehabilitated immediately, the government has announced.

Source: The Wire News

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