The SRA, on its part, has issued an advertisement looking for consultants to conceptualise and finalise technical specifications, preparation of tender documents and bid advisory services for development of rehabilitation of 13,486 hutments and 1,795 tribal families from the SGNP.
However, to avoid any controversy, sources said, the advertisement does not mention Aarey land. Insiders in the SRA, though, confirmed that the plot is in Aarey. They added that even the development plan 2034 for Mumbai mentions that tribals and slum-dwellers will be resettled here.
Environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti said, “This confirms our fears that the Aarey forest is being perforated for real estate development. Under the guise of public utilities and infrastructure, our forests are being plundered. There is a 2012 judgement of Bombay High Court by Justice P D Naik and Abhay Oka, clearly prohibiting slum-rehabilitation in Aarey and we will cite this. We will not let this go unchallenged.”
“To classify forest tribals as slumdwellers is a complete fraud. Removing persons from SGNP forest and moving them to Aarey forest in the garb of an SRA scheme is an even bigger fraud on our forest lands. Surely everyone is aware that SRA schemes are Mumbai’s biggest real estate scam. All that the government wants is to encash the golden land bank, nothing else,” alleged activist Zoru Bhathena.
Earlier, during the tenure of Sushilkumar Shinde as chief minister, there was a plan to have an SRA scheme and give a plot next to the Western Express Highway to a builder to rehabilitate slum dwellers, but this never succeeded.
In the last few years, the number of slums in Aarey have increased manifold but the dairy development department which owns the land has failed to check encroachments.
More than 1,000 acres of the Milk Colony has been given away to various government departments and private organisations over the past 50 years, steadily shrinking one of Mumbai’s last surviving green zones.
An earlier review of land allotments in the area by Mirror revealed that plots had been leased out or sold for various projects and purposes – from Film City, new roads, housing complexes for security forces, crematoriums and cemeteries to a petrol pump.
The Save Aarey Movement has also fought the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation tooth and nail and is soon moving the Supreme Court against the recent judgement favouring a metro shed.