Regional News

Aarey fire: 1.6K trees hacked before blaze; FIR registered

Based on the findings of a report by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, the horticulture department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has filed a complaint based on which a first information report (FIR) has been lodged against unidentified suspects in the case of the fire on December 3, 2018, near Aarey Milk Colony. According to the MPCB report, 1,676 trees, including 65 teak trees, were cut down before the fire broke out. Dindoshi police is now probing whether there is a connection between the fire and the cutting down of the trees.

On December 3, 2018, a massive fire broke out at 6.21pm, behind New Mhada Colony. While there were no casualties, it would take almost 14 hours to be doused. In its report submitted in the second week of December 2018, the fire brigade said that it was “doubtful” that the fire had natural causes.

The MPCB submitted its report on February 26 and March 12, which was referred to by Mayuresh Dattatray Bhoir, assistant officer in the horticulture department, from the P/North ward office in Malad (West), when he filed a complaint with the police on March 25, 2019.

The police registered an FIR on July 7 under sections 21 (a) of the Maharashtra (Urban areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act 1975 against unidentified suspects.

“We have begun investigation in the case. Officials from the forensic department have collected samples from the site and are investigating. We are investigating the case from various angles,” said inspector Ganesh Pawar, Dindoshi police station, investigating officer in the case. Police sources said they are looking into who all may be involved in cutting the trees down and if the fire was deliberately caused as a cover-up.

Bhoir, in his complaint to the police, stated that on February 26 and March 12 this year his department had received the report from the sub-regional office of MPCB, which stated that a total of 1,676 trees had been cut in 2018 on the plot of land which caught fire. According to the letter, the MPCB found that the fire of December 3 had broken out on land owned by M/s Dinshaw Trust, where a total of 1,676 small and big trees (including 65 teak trees) were cut before the fire broke out. Aside from the trees that were cut, approximately 4,216 small and big trees burnt down in the fire. The MPCB recommended registering a criminal offence.

However, as per the rules, only a non-cognizable (NC) offence could be registered on March 25, 2019.

Considering the gravity of the incident, the police approached the 39th magistrate court seeking permission to start a criminal investigation, which the court allowed in May. Bhoir was one of the BMC officials who recorded a statement with the police regarding the case, following the court order.

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