Despite a large number of Mumbai residents, including film industry celebrities, protesting and resisting its drive to cut down more than 2,000 trees in Aarey Colony of Goregaon, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — controlled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — has accomplished success in its mission. Inhabited by tribal families, Aarey Colony is spread over 1,287 hectares, adjacent to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
The Aarey Colony was so far known as the green lung of Mumbai. The state government decided to carry out a deforestation drive to build a shed for its metro rail project in which Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure Limited has considerable shares. The destruction of the Aarey forests looks like a tribute to the junior Ambani brother — hailed as a conservationist in his corporate bio — who is one of the principal donors of the BJP and is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The government got a shot-in-the-arm on Aarey forest after a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court declined four petitions requesting a stay on the felling of the trees. The BJP was jubilant due to the court verdict and the subsequent encroachment on the forest land by cutting all trees. The BJP-led BMC and the Maharashtra state government imposed Section 144 to clampdown on activists protesting in Aarey Colony. The Mumbai Police has arrested several activists and common people opposing the aggression at the venue.
Exhibiting disregard for the environment with sheer audacity, the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar supported the cutting down of the trees by calling it a price for development. It’s not clear, whose development he is talking about in a tree-less Mumbai. Javadekar claimed that many trees will be planted as compensation, which is sheer misinformation, as no plantation drive at this hour can compensate for the loss of fully-grown trees in natural forest areas. This antipathy towards the environment and keeping the people misinformed about climate change are two distinct features of the global fascist movement, of which the BJP is an integral part.
Ironically, the Shiv Sena, an ardent Hindutva fascist ally of the BJP, is strongly opposing the deforestation drive, overtaking the zeal shown by the internal feud-affected opposition Congress party and Nationalist Congress Party. Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi was arrested by the police for protesting against the deforestation drive. Without naming or blaming their own coalition government in the state or the BMC, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray and his son, Aditya Thackeray, criticised the move.
It’s, of course, impossible that Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government didn’t brief the Shiv Sena leadership about this disastrous misadventure to safeguard corporate interests. It’s also unlikely that if the Shiv Sena had reservations against this deforestation drive in Aarey Colony then it wouldn’t have unleashed its feral mob army to vandalise and create chaos, the quintessential modus operandi of the party. This sudden green concern by the partners of Modi is a sheer hogwash and election-time stunt to hoodwink the voters of Mumbai and Maharashtra. The impunity with which the BJP operated during this operation proved clearly that the election results are already fixed and the entire exercise will be a mock drive to show the world that a functional democracy exists in India.
Now, the Aarey forest is destroyed; its 2,000 precious trees are gone. The government and its rumbustious supporters are in an ebullient mood, despite Modi’s rhetoric on climate and environmental protection in New York. At a time when green capitalism is promoting Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg as its brand ambassador in the so-called green crusade, at a time when the environmental protection laws are tightened around the world to cut carbon emission and other hazards, the Indian government of Modi and his sycophants are happily obliging their anti-environment corporate donors.
When the Indian state could destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine forest in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, etc, places where it launched the most vicious war against the tribal people to evict them so that big mining corporations can seize the ownership of their land, forests and water, and profiteer by exploiting these, then it’s quite infantile to think that they will spare a simple, 1287-hectare tribal-inhabited land at the outskirts of Mumbai where one of the principal donors of the ruling BJP wants to set up a shed. Thus, thousands of policemen, mostly armed and wearing battle gears, were deployed to stop and thrash the protesters, irrespective of their age or gender. The eviction of tribals from Aarey forest took the same route, albeit without the large-scale bloodshed that is quintessential of Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand.
As Aarey deforestation took place in the vicinity of Mumbai, it became a hot topic for celebrities and social-media warriors to talk on. Seeing a public outrage over the issue and the readiness of a large number of activists and common people to confront the authorities, the corporate-controlled press capitalised on the issue and amplified it. At the same time, we have seen how blatant forest rights violations in the hinterland of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Odisha took place under successive governments in the last two decades. More than 176,000 hectares of pristine forest land in Hasdeo Arand, Chhattisgarh, is given to Adani by the Modi regime earlier this year for coal mining. These incidents are concealed by the press as there is a huge amount of money involved and the big mining corporations give good business to the media houses.
Ironically, the moment the Aarey Colony’s struggle reached the peak and a scuffle broke between the activists present in the venue and the police, Soni Sori, a tribal mass leader in Chhattisgarh, was arrested by the police in the Congress-ruled state from Dantewada because she called a meeting of the tribal people fighting against the corporate aggression. The press paid lip service and the great Indian democracy ignored the incident as one of many such trivial matters that take place daily in the lives of the tribal people. Aarey Colony is closer to the financial and entertainment capital of India and a show of protest, in which neither anyone would actively resist the authorities, nor will stand on its way to stop the juggernaut of destruction — a perfect NGO template — was amplified by the press without any hiccups.
The Aarey forest is a stark example of what’s going on at an industrial scale in rural Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha or other forest-rich hinterlands of India, where the corporate houses are trying to build their sheds of profiteering. To resist one and supporting another is sheer hypocrisy. If the people of Mumbai need oxygen, they must fight not just for one stretch of forest land but for each and every tree in India; they must fight to stop the Ambanis and Adanis from destroying the environment in the mineral-rich states under the garb of development.