The battle for green cover is on globally. There are no neat divisions between opposing parties, but by and large religious conservatives have been anti-green against the rest of the pack. Events such as large scale forest fires in Siberia and Amazonia have managed to convince ‘green’ people that there is a concerted effort to kill forests, a sort of land grab.
My country faces such a dilemma which is accentuated by an exploding population and wide economic disparities. Disparities have meant that rural parts of my country have little economic opportunities with people migrating to cities for betterment. This results in a huge burden on the infrastructure of metropolitan (metro for short) cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkatta. The migration takes place on a smaller scale to lesser metros in other states.
Another aspect of this is the unbearable dust and air pollution in big cities. Most of this is due to vehicular emissions; which is offset partially by the green cover in cities and in promotion of battery as well as electric powered vehicles. Air pollution is so bad in cities like New Delhi that they have schemes like odd-even^ to check the number of vehicles plying on city roads. My city of Kanpur^^ also faces a severe air pollution issue. As a biker who is sensitive to air pollution, I am a die-hard green forest cover fan.
Metro cities in India are categorized as A, B and C* based on government census reports. Overcrowding is rampant for example, my city of Kanpur, an A-class metro is miniscule compared to Chicago (area-wise) but has more people crowding it**.
The Aarey Forest^*^ case in Mumbai points to all the ills besetting our cities. The forest has about 2500 trees and provides a green cover to the increasingly polluted city. A network of suburban passenger trains is currently the main lifeline of transport. Road transport is almost choking to the brim. So, city politicians and bureaucrats came up with a metro rail project^* to relieve the burden on the suburban passenger train system.
Mumbai is the financial capital of India and also the state capital of Maharashtra. Rural folks from underdeveloped regions of the state like Vidarbha and Marathwada migrate annually into the city. Adding to this is the country’s regional labour migration from underdeveloped parts of India into Mumbai. As a consequence Mumbai is packed to capacity with people and buildings. There is no space for new large scale projects in populated urban localities of the city.
Inevitably the politicians and government bureaucrats chose the path of least resistance and zeroed in on Aarey forest to set up a metro car shed in Line 3 of the Metro. The news soon leaked out and Mumbaikars were up in arms. They have seen the sad state of city governance time and again and it’s difficult to convince people there that this wasn’t another attempt at some sort of land grab. There is a huge trust deficit. On the other hand authorities would not like to venture into the dense urban areas for setting up large metro car sheds. This would likely invite a rush of court cases which would take years to wind up and cost the city exchequer a tidy sum of money. Like I said governments opt for the path of least resistance.
Court cases were filed in Mumbai against the felling of trees in Aarey Forest area. As of today, courts have quashed cases against the felling of 2500 trees in Aarey Forest to make way for the car shed but people are still trying to resist^^. The same old story as anywhere else globally. The bigger issue is that unless people and the government here wake up to the effects of skewed development priorities and rapid population growth, this story is likely to be repeated again in many parts of my country. Expand this at the macro level and you have a global template for most developing nations.
What can be the solution? For starters, accountability of government officials accompanied with foresight and planning, taking into account the stakeholders can mitigate such a crisis. Corruption in large contracts is a real thing and this skews large projects involving a lot of money. Citizens also need to be pro-active in creating lobby and pressure groups to counter projects that impact large ecosystems. They also need to present viable alternatives for plans that destroy ecosystems. Simply protesting against projects will not suffice. At the state/national policy level, efforts to create employment in rural areas will lessen the burden on metro cities. Coming to population control, it is a complex issue, but increasing awareness can reap dividends in the long run.
Meanwhile Aarey Forest vs The Metro drags on for now …..