Mumbai is the city that never sleeps. Cliched as it may be, it's the reality. Mumbai is India's financial capital and known for ceaseless hustle and bustle. The population density is acute and the city is bursting at the seams and smothered by suburban districts such as Thane and Navi Mumbai.
Even after having three separate railway corridors -- Western, Central, and Harbour — it's impossible to match the constantly rising demand. The railways have tried to add more tracks, add more trains, add more bogeys, as well as new stations. Yet, 8-10 people die every day while commuting. You need to risk your life, just to reach the office and earn a day's bread.
The local trains have long been the pride of Mumbai. But the city has relied on one system for too long. The trains have reached their maximum capacity and the infrastructure needs an urgent overhaul. The terrible stampede at Elphinstone Road last year was only a reminder that decade-old (only) planning is choking Mumbai.
If you're well-off, you can commute in a car. But even that will cost you in terms of time and money. A 10km patch on Western Express Highway can take up to 2.5 hours to cover. Thousands of other cars are burning fossil fuels nearby each other for hours, further contributing to the degrading air quality index.
So what's the solution?
The city has an operational 10km Metro line between Andheri and Ghatkopar, while other routes are under construction. These new lines will directly help in decongesting the local trains and offer more convenience because of better reachability. Line 3 will be linking SEEPZ (Central Mumbai) to Cuffe Parade (South Mumbai) while going through important hubs like BKC, Dharavi, and Worli. Unlike other routes, Line 3 will be completely underground.
Unfortunately, this line has been under a cloud of controversy because of a proposed metro shed at Aarey. The locality is famous for its dairy farms and is located close to Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) is a joint venture between the state government, central government, and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It'll require 1,287 hectares of land at Aarey and more than 2,000 trees will have to be cut to accommodate a Metro shed.
Environment activists have been against the car shed since the beginning, claiming that the region is ‘Mumbai's Lungs’ and any uprooting will damage the local ecology. Multiple cases have been filed against MMRCL and protests have been going on for years. In October, High Court squashed the stay-order and MMRCL cut down all trees in their path within 48 hours. The Fadnavis-led government was committed to the project and it was BJP's star project to earn votes from the island city.
Hundreds of people in Mumbai have been staging protests to show their disapproval of cutting down of trees. With the rate of pollution increasing throughout the country, trees and plants serve as a safety blanket for the people.
An additional red flag they have raised says the proposed site falls in the catchment area of the Mithi river and could flood parts surrounding the Mumbai airport and Chakala.
The state government has a new leader now and he vows to bring "Aarey murderers to justice". Uddhav Thackeray has already asked MMRCL to stop work at the site and are currently evaluating alternate options. Not only this, but Thackeray has also ordered to withdraw cases against the Aarey protestors.As a resident of Mumbai, this is extremely disappointing because politicians are using the city's prime requirement as a means to further their agenda.
Is Aarey a forest? No. It's located on the outskirts of National Park and is technically a dairy farm. The region was used for cattle grazing and has developed drastically in the last decade. In fact, the film city is located close to the forest and premium residential projects like Royal Palms have popped up. On the other hand, the Metro shed is located close to JVLR and doesn't even touch the forest territory, just like IIT Bombay. MMRCL says it has planted 24,000 trees across the city even as its MD Ashwini Bhide justified the "inevitable destruction", saying it paves the way for "new creation". The Bombay High Court refused to declare Aarey Colony a forest. Activists claim the locality has 5 lakh trees, then how is uprooting 2,000 trees a crisis? Petitions have reached the Supreme Court and even they've not stopped the ramp construction. Is there an alternative site available? No. A few options like Kanjurmarg were considered but weren't viable in the end. The plot is on marshy land and isn’t suitable for the Metro. A shift would also cost more and cause further delays. If real estate was that easily available in Mumbai, why would MMRCL invest in underground routes when it could get off easily with an elevated corridor? Besides the location being ‘ideal’, MMRC has also argued that the number of trees to be cut would only be 2 percent the total number in Aarey.
Activists have tried everything they can. In the end, the results may not be in your favour. Mumbai is taxed the most and yet the life of a normal citizen is always at risk. Every day millions take the risk of commuting by local trains, knowing it could be their last journey. We spend hours sitting in traffic while our cars guzzle poisonous gases.
We're already running late
Mumbai should've gotten the Metro long back. We're already running late, and every delay is costing the city 8-10 lives daily. That's just the direct number you can associate with deaths on the tracks. Indirectly, rising air pollution will always be a contributing factor.
Delhi Metro has completely changed the face of the capital and is powered by 100 percent renewable energy. In the longer run, 2,000 trees are irrelevant because the project will exponentially reduce the carbon footprint of the city.
India is a developing country and sustainable development should be at the heart of every infrastructure project. Yes, we have sacrificed a few trees and their loss will be covered up soon. Every city has gone through similar phases -- Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, and more. It's our time, let's make it count. Instead of thinking in binary, we need to find a balance between development and conservation.
Uddhav Thackeray should keep politics aside and think about the millions of people affected every day. Trees have been cut and the dead cannot be brought back to life. It's time we move on and stop creating an issue out of everything just for the sake of opposition.
Mumbai is imploding. Save it while you still can.
Shivam Vahia is a developer by hobby and an avid aviation geek.