MUMBAI: Environmental activists and some political parties, including the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the AAP, on Sunday staged a protest at the Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon, against the Maharashtra government's proposal to build a Metro-3 car shed at the site.
Holding placards, the protesters raised slogans against the new government's proposal to shift the Metro-3 car shed project back to Mumbai's Aarey forest, an 1,800-acre area that is often termed as the megalopolis's 'green lung'.
In their first cabinet meeting held soon after their swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP had directed the state administration to submit a proposal to build the Metro-3 car shed in Aarey Colony instead of Kanjurmarg.
The previous Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government had shifted the proposed car shed site to Kanjurmarg from Aarey Colony on the ground of environment protection, but the issue got embroiled in a legal dispute.
The Thackeray government had also declared Aarey as a reserved forest.
Some leaders and workers of the Shiv Sena as well as its youth wing Yuva Sena, which is headed by former environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, participated in the protest.
Thackeray, who represents Worli Assembly constituency in Mumbai, tweeted that he was not able to join the protest due to the crucial session of the state Legislative Assembly on Sunday, but urged the government to reconsider its decision.
Party MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, who participated in the protest, accused the Eknath Shinde-led government of politicising the issue.
"What harm have Mumbaikars done to indulge in such politics? Why are you seeking revenge from Mumbai for your politics? If you have anything against us, fight us, why fight Mumbaikars," Chaturvedi said.
According to environment activists, the forest not only provides fresh air to the people of the city, but it also a key habitat for wildlife, including some endemic species.
The forest has some five lakh trees, and also has a couple of rivers and some lakes flowing through it, they say.
Ruben Mascarenhas, the working president of Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Mumbai unit ,said Aarey is the only urban forest ecosystem in the world and must be saved at all costs.
He said as a minister in the Uddhav Thackery-led government, Shinde was in favour of the Metro-3 yard being shifted to Kanjurmarg and was part of the decision.
"His U-turn right now is astounding," he said.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray's son Amit also came out against the proposed construction of the car shed in Aarey.
He said the government's decision has shocked many nature lovers like him and added that he hoped that the Shinde-led dispensation will reconsider its decision.
On Friday, addressing a press conference at Shiv Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters at Dadar in central Mumbai, Uddhav Thackeray had made a fervent appeal to the new government not to go ahead with the Metro-3 car shed project at Aarey Colony.
"I am very upset. If you are angry with me, then vent out your anger, but don't stab Mumbai in the heart. I am very upset that the Aarey decision has been overturned. This is not a personal property," he had said.