Maharashtra eyes land near Aarey for slum rehabilitation, environmentalists fume
Ninety of 100 acres reserved for a zoo at Goregaon (east) is now proposed to be used to rehabilitate tribals and slum dwellers living at Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The zoo, if it sees the light of day, will come up on the balance land. The proposal has come under criticism from environmentalists.
The CM’s office will monitor the rehab project, which is estimated to cost Rs 3,510 crore and is to be executed by Mhada. Praveen Pardeshi, secretary to the CM, said the move will free up several hundred acres of forest land. “It is being done to ensure that there is no human habitation within the park. We have carried out such shifting and rehabilitation for eight wildlife sanctuaries across the state and the results are there for all to see. The tiger populations in Tadoba and Pench have actually gone up. Adivasis are being shifted close to the places they have been living in,” said Pardeshi, a former forest secretary. He said the rehab project has been approved in the BMC’s DP-2034.
But Amrita Bhattacharjee of the Aarey Conservation Group said tribals all over traditionally live in forests and look after ecology. “Their presence ensures forest protection. Once they are out, no one will know what is happening inside the forest,” she warned.
While 43 acres of the reserved zoo land will be used for ground-plus-one structures for 2,000 tribal families, 47 acres will be used to build seven- storey buildings to house 24,959 slum-dwellers who are eligible for free housing as per the 1997 orders of the Bombay high court.
But why should slum-dwellers be rehabilitated along with tribals in the same area? Pardeshi said a rehab project at the Chandivli quarries has come to a standstill and there is no other land available close by for rehabilitation. Around 12,000 families were rehabilitated at Chandivli, but further construction had to be stopped as the area is in the airport’s funnel zone.
Pardeshi said no other constructions will be allowed on the reserved zoo. “There will be no commercial or free sale component in this project. Mhada will get transfer of development rights, which it can sell in the market,” he said.
Advocate Godfrey Pimenta said the land proposed for rehab is outside the boundary of SGNP, but still within the ecosensitive zone (ESZ) of the park. He said the final notification marking the zone around the park clearly mentioned that there must be a zonal master plan in place before any development can be sanctioned within the ESZ. “The plan is yet to be prepared,” Pimenta said.