The construction of a metro car shed in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony hit a speed-breaker on Friday (November 29) with newly sworn-in Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announcing a stay on the project. Strong protests had erupted in the area last month over axing of trees for the project.
The decision of the Thackeray-government drew criticism from the BJP camp with former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis saying the move will discourage investors and stall infrastructure projects in the city.
The then BJP-led government in Maharashtra had come under fire from green activists in October when over 2,000 trees were felled for a car shed, to be constructed in Aarey Colony, which is adjacent to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Interestingly, the decision comes a day after Thackeray was sworn-in as the chief minister. His party, Shiv Sena, then a junior partner in the Fadnavis government, had opposed the felling of trees.
Also read | Inside Aarey: A tale of forest gumption
“I have stayed Aarey car shed work. I will review the entire thing…I will not allow a culture where trees are cut at night. Not a single tree leaf will be cut till further orders,” said Thackeray while clarifying that metro work itself has not been stayed.
A Supreme Court bench had last month sought a status report with pictures on plantation, transplantation and felling of trees in the Aarey colony area.
The Bombay High Court had on October 4 declined to quash the Mumbai municipal corporation’s decision to allow felling of over 2,600 trees in the green zone to set up a metro car shed. Hours after the court gave a go-ahead, trees were cut at night, fuelling outrage.
Reacting to Thackeray’s announcement, Fadnavis said it was “unfortunate that the state government stayed Aarey metro car shed work in spite of Hon Supreme Court and Hon High Court orders.” “This shows the state government is not serious about Mumbai’s infrastructure projects! And the ultimate sufferer is common Mumbaikar only,” said Fadnavis in a tweeted.
He added the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had given ₹15,000 crore for the metro project on “nominal” interest rates. “Decisions as the one taken by Thackeray will demotivate investors and all infrastructure projects will get stalled, which were already delayed for so long during the Congress-NCP combine’s 15-year rule till 2014,” said Fadnavis.
BJP MLA Ashish Shelar also slammed the decision. “The hands of development are bound to move in reverse direction when you tie ‘watch’ on the ‘hand’ of ‘bow and arrow’,” he said. The Sena’s symbol is bow-and-arrow, hand is the symbol of the Congress, and watch is symbol of the NCP.
“The decision to stay carshed work of the metro project which is 70% complete is despicable for Mumbaikars..It is not right to politicise issues concerning Mumbaikars!! (sic),” Shelar tweeted.
Meanwhile, during the interaction with the media at the press room of the state secretariat, Chief Minister Thackeray also said he became chief minister unexpectedly, but he didn’t want to run away from the responsibility.
He took a dig at his predecessor, Fadnavis, over the latter’s “I will come again (as chief minister)” refrain during the poll campaign, saying, “I didn’t announce that I will become chief minister.”
The Shiv Sena president, who was accompanied by his son and MLA Aaditya, also noted that he is the first chief minister of Maharashtra who was born in Mumbai, and added that he is working on plans to ensure development of the city. His government will be accountable for every paisa of tax-payers, the chief minister said.
Asked about the saffron kurta he was wearing, Thackeray said, cryptically, that it was his favourite colour “which cannot get washed in any laundry”. The BJP had aimed barbs at the Sena after it joined hands with the Congress-NCP, questioning its commitment to Hindutva.
Thackeray also avoided direct reply to the question whether he will shift to ‘Varsha’, the official bungalow of chief minister in south Mumbai, from his residence ‘Matoshree’ in suburban Bandra. He will do “whatever it takes to meet people and solve their problems”, he said.
(With inputs from agencies)