The Aarey forest imbroglio is a clear example of the failure to appreciate the need to balance the demands of economic development and environmental protection. The point is to improve the quality of life in totality, not to improve it a bit in one aspect while degrading it a lot in some other aspects. The calculus of social cost and social benefit must fully factor in the benefits, better public transport, in this case, with attendant reduction in private vehicle use and carbon emissions, and the costs, forgoing the ecosystem services the Aarey forest provides to Mumbai, and the cost of compensatory afforestation. If the net benefit is positive, the project should move ahead, not otherwise.
There is no place for a dogmatic approach to either development or environment. Rational cost-benefit assessment of any large project calls for transparency and engagement between policymakers, civil society, scientists and business in the development planning process. It requires improved availability and access to reliable data and assessments that form the basis of decision making. It does not matter whether the Aarey forest is virgin forest or the outcome of a 1950s administrative decision. What must be considered are the ecosystem services Aarey provides to Mumbai and how these are impacted by the diversion of 33 hectares, roughly 2% of the total area. The benefits of augmenting Mumbai’s public transport system compared to cost of diverting a section of the green belt, and other options of locating the infrastructure, must be considered.
So should whether measures to mitigate the negative impacts of locating car shed operations, a highly polluting activity, in the Mithi River floodplain have been taken into account. The Aarey forest case should become a textbook example of how not to pursue development projects. Or it could become one of how to.
via Aarey: For social cost-benefit analysis