Saving Aarey: An environmentalist’s learnings from a Mumbai movement

In a video, Rishi Agarwal talks about his recently launched book on the Save Aarey movement, which tried hard but failed to get the Metro car shed out.

Two months ago, a report by Global Forest Watch, said that India had lost 2.33 million hectares of tree cover since 2000. Given the push for infrastructure development in the country and closer home in Mumbai, forests such as Aarey, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and wetlands and mangrove forests in Navi Mumbai are constantly at risk.  

While successive governments promise afforestation in other areas as compensation, activists and citizens often find that the biodiversity and fragile ecological balance are lost forever. However, the argument that development at the cost of the environment is unavoidable, seems to be getting stronger. Those who defend these causes are accused of coming in the way of development. But, activists who work for these issues battle on many fronts — civic awareness, judicial, policy and on the streets.

Rishi Aggarwal, an environmentalist and founder of the Mumbai Sustainability Centre and the Walking Project, who was active in the Aarey Movement for several years, has dealt with various such issues for decades.

After realising that the Metro car shed would not be shifted, Rishi felt that one should stop the fight and work on other struggles. He strongly feels that the time for action at Aarey was a decade ago in 2014–15 and not later.

Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal reading from his book on the Aarey movement at the launch on June 5th
Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal reading from his book on the Aarey movement at the launch on June 5th. Pic: via Facebook of Rishi Aggarwal

He has now written a book about his experience with the movement, titled, Saving Aarey: The undoing of an environmental campaign. The book not only traces the journey of the movement, but also critically looks at the role played by politicians, policy makers and most importantly, the middle-class of the city. 

Read more: Aarey tree felling: A reluctant green signal allows MMRCL to axe more trees

Saving Aarey, the book and the journey 

Citizen Matters hosted an online discussion with author and environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal and environmentalist Vidyadhar Pathak, just before the book launch on June 5th. 

In a straightforward and honest look at the movement and other environmental issues that plague Mumbai, Rishi underscored the importance of civic participation in safeguarding the forests and green lungs. 

He and Vidyadhar highlighted that if development projects do not consider environmental impact, we are headed for hotter summers, drier monsoons and severe winters. And it is for people to helm the struggle to save their cities from climate change. 

The Aarey Movement has been a crucial struggle wherein people joined from all walks of life. The lessons from the journey are crucial for Mumbai and every other city that reels under climate change and excessive urbanisation. Here is a video on the lessons learnt from the Aarey movement.

Read more: The story of Aarey forest under three governments

Online discussion on the Aarey movement

Many say that the movement failed as the Metro Car shed is coming up in Aarey forest. However, it is crucial for the city that the learnings of this movement are always kept in the public domain, so that the people can be alert and aware of extremely difficult environmental struggles.

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