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Aarey Waah: The rise of mindlessly woke Instagram protester

10:51 AM Oct 14, 2020 | Amogh Manthalkar

Nature’s call

I recently came across a friend’s Instagram story, in which, he had posed with a friend of his, who was holding a placard that said “Today, it is Amazon. Tomorrow it may be Aarey. Later it can be Himayat Bagh.” He was wearing (yes, wearing like an ornament, really) a non-rebreather mask (without a bag, though) and carrying a 5 litre Bisleri water can containing a rose sapling.

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This started when some active citizens of Mumbai saw notices stuck on trees of the Aarey Milk Colony in Nov 2014, that they were going to be cleared to make way for Metro Line 3 car shed. I saw a headline on Facebook reading, “Hundreds brave rains to form a human chain to protest BMC order to chop 2700 trees.” So far, the main argument against this was about the morality of sacrificing the environment for the sake of urban development. Thought provoking, but to me, not compelling.

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I have explained some major arguments and their rebuttals of the case that was argued in the Bombay HC in this blog post. The court dismissed the petition, with these conditions on MMRCL, described in an affidavit dated 25/3/2018.

  1. Open areas shown on the Part Plan shall be kept open and the trees on that land must be conserved permanently.

  2. Total 33 ha of land shall be used only for the depot and its allied users only. Commercial users shall not be permitted.

  3. Before the depot is developed, all necessary permissions must be obtained.

  4. The character of the overall construction shall be such that the underground water table shall not get disturbed.

  5. To mitigate the environmental impact to the Aarey Colony, following measures shall be undertaken.

  • Ground water recharging arrangements to be provided.

  • Trees be planted as per recommendations of the TC.

  • Trees above 10 ft height of native variety only to be planted.

  • Plantation to be undertaken by professional agencies only.

  • Annual audits of the plantation to be conducted by a third part and report to be displayed on the company website.

  • MMRCL to maintain these trees for 5 years.

The petition was dismissed by the Bombay HC saying, and I’m quoting, “The project can not suffer on account of general concerns.”

Denying the bully’s veto

The link to the most popular petition on “change.org” is here. I recommend reading this petition and its updates, since around 700,000 people have signed it. To me, some arguments made in the petition and its updates seem unsubstantiated, lacking scientific and/or legal evidence and some even come across as vacuous claims.

The petitioners argued that the authorities had lied to the Japanese collaborator (JICA), saying that the land in question is in the city area and not a forest. This was found to be incorrect. The land is not a statutorily recognized forest, under Forest Conservation Act, 1980, it is not a part of SGNP. Then they said that the entire metro line itself is a net carbon positive project and that it must be scrapped. Dr. M Chandel of CESE IITB is of the opinion that once the whole metro network is developed and functioning, it will be a net carbon negative system.

The organization, Environmental Justice Atlas is a self-styled “teaching, networking and advocacy resource”. I read a few extremely strange word choices in their article regarding the Aarey issue. This website actually said that they were happy that “many educated young people were ready to risk arrest and detention”. This scares me. The fact that such advocacy groups pride themselves in this is deeply unsettling. What this effectively means is, kids who are young, in the age group of say 18–25, are protesting on streets risking arrests and detention. This goes on their permanent records. When filling a job application, applying for a visa, filing for higher education or obtaining any govt documents, they will have to say that they were arrested for disturbing public order. Do they think that the company they want a job in is going to bother considering them because the arrest on their record was for purely selfless reasons? Those are lives ruined, for all practical purposes.

Meanwhile, many public personalities had protested against this felling of trees. But I find myself thinking, do these Bollywood celebrities really care about the environment as much as they pretend? Will they stop celebrating their birthdays and weddings by bursting crackers? And politicians are on another level entirely. Aaditya Thackeray had joined these protests quite early on. Are these people going to give up travelling by private planes? How many of them actually travelled to the protest sites in SUVs to pretend to care about trees.

In Conclusion

I only have one appeal to make, specifically to young people who are likely to join these movements and form crystallized opinions on shaky moral grounds and factually incorrect claims that are fed to them by people with, here it comes, vested interests. I can understand how some people can feel outraged at trees being chopped for a metro shed. I do not wish to engage in ad hominem attacks against anyone, but I have found that these petitioners are professional petitioners who have a pattern of interrupting development projects. Just in this case, the multiple delays have escalated the cost of this very project. This only gives more ammunition to the professional protesters.

In fact, one of the petitions, mentions that the SC rejected a plea seeking to shift the shed to any alternate locations. I can understand that one may disagree with the subjective opinion of the judges of any court as I myself on numerous occasions have. I do not agree with the SC’s views in the Sabarimala case, or the Dahi Handi case of Bombay HC and the SC, or even the cracker ban of Delhi HC.

There is a reason why people, especially the youth, get easily influenced by soaring rhetoric about selfless issues, especially environmental. These subjects tap into everyone’s vision of a utopian landscape. The season of spring. Diffused sunlight in the woods. A cuckoo chirps somewhere in the distance. It is the paramount of serenity. It does create a longing for such an experience. People do have an instinct to preserve that utopia, even if it is only a naive attempt, untouched by some truths of the functioning world that cannot be denied. And I do not blame them. A society must always aim for some kind of a utopia or an idealistic version of the world. But, the key is to find the most pragmatic way to create a world as close to it as possible.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Amogh Manthalkar is an electronics engineer and a research scholar in photonics. He is an amateur musician and reads and sometimes writes. He is mostly interested in physics, philosophy and politics.

Also Read: Metro car shed to be relocated from Aarey Colony to Kanjurmarg in Mumbai: Uddhav Thackeray

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