Forest Officials claim discrepancies in records of forested area near Aarey during NGT hearing of the petition by NGO Vanashakti
During the National Green Tribunal's (NGT) hearing of the NGO Vanashakti's petition that seeks to maintain the status of Aarey lands as 'No Development Zone', the Forest Department filed an affidavit stating that 76 hectare of forest land was identified in 1997 near the Film City area. This stance of the Forest Department comes after the direction of western bench of NGT, Pune asking the officials to submit relevant documents proving that Aarey Milk Colony is not indeed forest land.
According to the documents retrieved by Vanashakti through an RTI, in 1980, the then Divisional Manager of SGNP had written to the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra stating that, out of the total 2076.073 hectares of land in Aarey Colony, 575 hectares were reserved for a recreational zone and the remaining 1501.073 hectares would continue to be a part of the national park. 'The entire area of the proposed recreational zone comprising various sectors and the additional areas with total area of 575 hectares or 5.75 sq. kms is revenue land and forms a part of the total area transferred from Aarey Milk Colony to this Division,' read the letter.
In their affidavit, the Forest Department stated that a report dated 28 July 1997, prepared by the then Collector, Mumbai Suburban District mentioned that the land in possession of Film City and Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS) admeasures 76 hectares and is 'forest like'.
The report further asserted that while the survey was conducted, there has been some error in the recording the landscape of revenue villages under the Aarey Milk Scheme. 'The State Government has allotted lands from various revenue villages to the Aarey Milk Scheme. Though the scheme covers various villages in common parlance, this area is known as 'Aarey area'. Since there is a common map for three villages Klerabad (Vihar), Gundgaon and Sai, there was some confusion,' read the affidavit.
In the same note, the affidavit claims that the disforested land of village Gundgaon and village Sai mentioned in the notification is the same land which is in possession of the Film City and BNHS. Moreover it added that the notification wrongly mentions the forested area of Klerabad when it should be Gundgaon.
However, Stalin Dayanand, Project Director of Vanashakti have sought time from the High Court to respond on the affidavit. “They are saying that village names got mixed up. Yet they have also mentioned that during their survey in 1997, they identified around 1,548 hectares of forest and then they adjusted the amount by saying that only 76 hectares of forest is near film city and the rest is mangroves despite that fact that earlier the status of forests were not given to the mangroves,” said Stalin Dayanand. The matter is now kept for hearing on May 22 .
“Further the officials mentioned that a meeting was conducted where the Revenue Department and forest officials sat together to resolve the confusion about the missing forest lands on April 6, 2017. They also declared that MMRCL was part of this meeting. My question is what was the role of MMRCL in the meeting? The court had directed the forest department. Going by what was done we should also have been called,” said Dayanand.