Fire in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony a conspiracy, say activists

Environmentalists claim that the fire was used as a swift fix to the issue of cutting 2,702 trees for the Metro-3 car shed project

By Gajanan Khergamker
Published: Tuesday 04 December 2018
Fire in Aarey Milk Colony
Fire broke out in Mumbai's Aarey Colony on the evening of December 3. Credit: Twitter/ANI Fire broke out in Mumbai's Aarey Colony on the evening of December 3. Credit: Twitter/ANI

Around 6.20 pm on December 3, a fire broke out in a forested area near the Aarey Colony in Mumbai’s Goregaon, which houses 2,702 trees the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation wishes to cut for the Metro-3 car shed project. Till 7.30 pm, the fire had spread to 3.5 kms, and within the next 30 minutes it swiftly escalated to level III.

The fire originated in a plot near an IT Park, which is located adjacent to Aarey, along the General Arun Kumar Vaidya Marg in the western suburbs. The fire department found it difficult to control the blaze owing to the winds from the hills and that the fire advanced to residential areas. After an all-night operation, the blaze was finally put out at 8.48 am on December 4.

While the fire highlighted the fragility of the 16 sq km green lung of the city and 12-odd tribal pockets, it also provided some weight to activists’ claims. Environmentalist and tree activist Zoru Bhatena says, “Every year, the forest area at Dindoshi is set on fire. This land has been constantly and consciously neglected and the authorities have refused to intervene. It looks like a conspiracy to hand over the forest to developers. If they allow the place to grow into a thick forest, they will automatically be denied permission to cut trees. It is a systematic ploy."

The fires around this time of the year are a regular occurrence but it was, for the first time, that a fire at Dindoshi grew so large and almost risked everything. The last time a fire was escalated to this level in the city was when a gas cylinder had exploded in a slum in Bandra on October 30.

While the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) is yet to obtain permission for tree felling in the zone, environmentalists believe the fire is a swift fix to the entire issue. “Apart from the loss to forests and property, it’s the loss of life to intrinsic fauna, birds and animals that is indicative of the dismal failure of development by way of the Metro car shed in the Aarey Milk Colony slotted for the future too,” says Fizzah Shah, president of In Defence of Animals, India.

While social media was replete with pictures and videos of the fire and people comparing it with the recent California forest fire, it may be recalled that the MMRCL had recently reiterated its claim in the Bombay high court that the Aarey Milk Colony was not a forest. The corporation had alleged that activists had been trying to mislead citizens and the court against the Metro-3 line.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

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