Two years ago, environmentalists and climate activists fought tooth and nail to save Aarey Forest from being utilized for Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation.
However, while they won that fight, Aarey is once again under threat, and this time, due to forest fires.
As per reports, between January and March, 27 of the 48 fires in Mumbai city and suburbs have been reported from Aarey. In fact, four fires were reported in the first week of March itself.
Reportedly, the lack of proper fire management, and more importantly, lack of adequate punishment, has led to a rise of carelessness that translates to multiple forest fires.
Since no one is punished for setting forested areas on fire, such incidents continue unabated. On many occasions, we call the fire brigade. This damages green patches and affects wildlife in the area.
-Sanjiv Valsan (Save Aarey Movement) to Mumbai Mirror
While most fires are doused within hours, the alarming frequency at which these forest fires are taking place has left many local citizens and environmentalists concerned.
The fire incidents have become a regular issue now, every day there would be a fire for a couple of hours and it would get doused after that.
-Rizwan Merchant to Free Press Journal
Allegations have also been made that these fires are being deliberately set, either by tribals or ‘rogue’ government agencies, to encroach on the forest land.
However, according to Hindustan Times, Harish Shetty, deputy fire officer, attributed the fires to ‘greater human presence’ in the area.
The reason behind more forest fires in Aarey, compared to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is more human presence. In SGNP, movement of people is restricted and there is proper fire management strategy in place. In Aarey it is the opposite. Some tourists must have left behind a burning cigarette or beedi. It happens often.
And even as the national media and government remain largely silent, people have taken to social media to highlight the issue:
25+ forest fires since the month of january in #Aarey but no serious action by the #Maharashtra govt yet.#SaveAareyForest #Mumbai https://t.co/o5qoar8nAg— Fridays For Future India (@FFFIndia) March 23, 2021
At least 27 forest fires in Aarey Colony this year alone, as per official data. No fire management plan on cards until dairy department hands over reserve forest land to forest department for safekeeping. pic.twitter.com/EJChkOqniR— prayag arora-desai (@pryagaroradesai) March 16, 2021
27 forest fires in Mumbai’s Aarey since January 2021— Save Mumbai’s forests (@SaveMumbaifore1) March 16, 2021
Acc to residents & environmentalists, highlights the need for better fire management and conservation practices within Aarey.#SaveAareyForest@CMOMaharashtra @AUThackeray @INCMumbai @MumbaiNCP https://t.co/H0s5JAbMGH
#SOS #aareyforest #aareyforestfire— Rupspp (@rupspp) March 22, 2021
Aarey is burning! Save #AareyforestEveryday there are forest fires all over Aarey.Why are the authorities not doing anything about it
@Mimumbikar@citizen1819@mumbaimatterz@MumbaiPolice @MumbaiMirror @HTMumbai @IndianExpress @mid_day https://t.co/rqZtdnTtzD
Irrespective of the reason behind them, what can’t be denied is that these fires pose a very real threat to the environment.