New Delhi: Amid a major controversy over cutting of trees in Mumbais Aarey colony for Metro rail-related construction, environmentalists say that development cannot take place at the cost of ecology and an appropriate way needs to be found to ensure harmony between the two.
The issue of felling trees in Aarey has reached the Supreme Court which has ordered status quo till October 21, when the matter would be heard. The matter reached the top court after petitions were filed, challenging a Bombay High Court order which allowed cutting of trees to enable construction of Metro car shed.
"Development and environment are always pitched as if these are against each other. There is a conflict but we have to understand that the conflict is actually in our model," Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha told IANS.
"If we build infrastructure around the trees rather than building over them, a solution can be found to end this development versus environment debate," he added.
He said the right to grow and mobility are extremely important but it is never more important than the right to life.
"None of us is saying that the Metro is bad but what we are pitching that this cannot be achieved at the cost of a forest," Jha said.
"Imagine, there is a great Metro in Mumbai but every child is suffering from asthma. In such a case, what is the point of that great Metro? We can't strive for development at the cost of human life," he emphasized.
Another environmental activist, Kaushal Kant Mishra said, "We are not against development of any kind but we only say that it should be done while keeping in mind the environment too."
Noting that every Master Plan is created for a period of 25 years, he said while making such blueprints, the trees that would be cut in future should be planted first to create a balance.
"We are already in a compromise situation. Taking such a step in current scenario would lead to further deterioration," Mishra added.
Jha, while referring to the Aeray case, said, "The situation is grave. Mumbai has witnessed floods thrice this year. At a time when there is air and water crisis, we have to find a sustainable development model."
Criticizing the actions of the Maharashtra government, Jha said, "In a sly manner, the state government, taking advantage of the weekend, went ahead and chopped down the trees."
He said in two days after the HC order, the government chopped thousands of trees. "It might look like just cutting of 2,100 trees but when you destroy the ecology of Aarey, which is natural forest and has grown for last 7-8 decades, it will have a long-term impact on the citizenry and overall ecological and public health status of Mumbai."
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, while commenting on the Aarey controversy, has said, "for every tree cut there is a policy to replace it with five."
The Aarey issue even caused divisions within the fraternities of celebrities, politicians, intellectuals and sportspersons.
Amitabh Bachchan expressed his support for Metro construction in Mumbai, calling it "faster, convenient and most efficient" and a "solution for Pollution", attracting criticism.
Cricketer Rohit Sharma said nothing was worth cutting down trees for in Mumbai's Aarey Colony as that part of the city is "slightly greener" and there's a "slight difference in temperature" because of Aarey Colony.
"Even if there is more to the story, nothing is worth cutting down something so vital. Part of Mumbai being slightly greener and slight difference in the temperature is mainly because of Aarey Colony. How can we take that away, not to mention the thousands of animals who will displace," Sharma tweeted on Tuesday.
"It is really sad that after the court gave the order, without even waiting for 15 days, they have just cut 2000 trees already...I understand the importance of urbanization. But what will we do with that development if it is not sustainable for people to breathe clean air," actor Riteish Deshmukh.
Actor Akshay Kumar, apparently to indicate support to Metro construction, took a Metro train on his way back home, evoking criticism, with netizens calling it a PR stunt and accusing him of supporting the destruction of the Aarey forest.