While just about everyone who’s anyone waxes eloquently about green movements and their love for trees, there’s little being done at grass-root level. Remember the tree which fell opposite Inox at Mumbai’s Nariman Point leaving a gaping hole in the pavement. After that happened, all was forgotten. A Right To Information application to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) garden department and tree authority had revealed that of the 26,039 trees felled from the period between April 2008 and March 2011, 14,877 were cut for ‘development’ while the rest 11,162 trees felled as they “obstructed traffic.”

Now, according to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, two trees must be planted for every tree cut or the uprooted tree must be transplanted. So, the 14,877 trees cut for ‘development’ should have been followed with replanting of 29,754 trees. According to data furbished by the BMC, only 5,604 trees have been planted from 2008 to 2010 and, experts maintain, not more than 5,000 were planted in the 2010-2011 period.

 For the trees felled for ‘obstructing traffic’, the BMC has – on its part - planted 22,037 trees. By the ‘must replant two as rule’ logic, if 26,039 trees were felled in the said period, 52,078 trees should have been planted in strict accordance with the Act.

There are a few loopholes and snags which need to be resolved in order to ensure the purpose of the Act is fulfilled in principle and practice. Like, at the time of handing over the occupation certificate, a thorough inspection of the developed site does not occur. This should be preceded by a strict survey by the Tree Authority and the garden department authorities which must ensure the requisite numbers of trees are replanted by the developer.

Also, that the developers don’t quite maintain the trees planted in place of those felled is evident in the fact that the deposit of Rs 2,000 - as laid down by the Act, for each tree cut to be refunded only if the tree planted in place grows satisfactorily – is not claimed at all. This indicates developers aren’t planting the trees being felled in the name of ‘development.’

New York, incidentally, despite having more high-rises than Mumbai, has an average of five trees per person. Back home, in 2009, over 2,000 trees were ‘required’ to be felled for the Middle Vaitarna Dam project and there was a proposal to cut 111 trees for the Mahatma Gandhi swimming pool in Mahim also, 1,000-odd trees had to be felled for the Bhandup Water Complex.

In the name of development, roads are widened to accommodate parking and sidewalks / pavements reduced as “very few pedestrians anyway use them,” leading to existing trees barely being able to hold on and…eventually die! There is a proposal to cut down two rain trees outside the Catering College at Dadar because they were a ‘nuisance,’ and ‘caused accidents’. This, despite the fact that the trees have been standing there for nearly a century and there was no report of anyone crashing into those trees.

A sea of residents opposed the proposal and High Court intervened ensuring the trees were not felled. Sadly, in the name of making the city green, a lot of cooperative housing societies and landlords ‘create’ green spaces where there exist none in development plans only to boost their realty prospects. The presence of a slum near a residential structure has direct relevance to the selling price affecting it adversely. Concurrently, the presence of a ‘garden’ or a green patch provides the prerequisite boost to sellers who can pitch for a bit more.

However, in green spaces created for vested interests, there’s little by way of initiative in ensuring they are maintained well.

CITY REGISTERS TREE FALLS EVERY YEAR It’s during monsoons that hit Mumbai when most of the trees buckle under the onslaught of rains, some breaking, others getting completely uprooted.

Following the first showers, traffic moves at snail’space dodging branches and trunks that swoop precariously weighed by the rainfall, onto the city’s roads. “It’s sad that the authorities never foresee this well in advance,” says Mumbai-based Charni Road resident and environmentalist KabirKartik. “When they go about pruning trees branches throughout the year around anticipating rains and subsequent tree-falls, they presume that they’ve solved the issue and trees won’t fall but they do...as always,” he says.

But, as history has it, the first week of rainfall in Mumbai fetches umpteen tree-falls, subsequent commuting issues for vehicle owners and traffic-jams. What makes matters worse it the inbuilt risk of a tree falling on a moving vehicle or an unassuming pedestrian. Not that it deters the civic authorities in any manner. Year after year, dozens of trees buckle under the onslaught of heavy rains and gusty winds that accompany showers. Like B.Com student Devyani Mehta who studies in a Churchgate-based college, there’re scores of unwary pedestrians and two-wheeler riders who’re caught completely off-guard when a tree, among the rows interlining lanes, cracks and falls bang in the middle of the road.

ChandrakantHalkar’s six-month-old Toyota was smashed by a tree that collapsed on it while it was parked near Electric House during last year’s downpour. “After having driven it so carefully on road during the first rains, considering it gets so slippery and dangerous, it was the last straw for me when a tree fell on it while it was parked!” says an astounded Halkar. “The hood of the car is smashed even its windshield shattered with the impact,” rues Halkar.

 “Our college street, interlined with tall trees looks beautiful but once it rains, the entire scenario changes,” says a South Mumbai Jai Hind College student. “Trees that fall in the middle of the road following the first rains usually create a huge traffic issue for vehicle-owners who’re either pushing their two-wheelers through the branches or driving through them in their cars while avoiding pedestrians too,” she says. While NGOs and resident societies go gung-ho over turning Mumbai into a cleaner, greener place, it’s imperative to ensure that the trees planted don’t get out of shape and are maintained well. The surging number of trees that fall during the monsoons only indicates the fact that there is absolutely no upkeep for the trees once they are planted.

The onus of their upkeep rests on the civic authorities as well as societies / residents planting the trees. Nobody is held responsible for the fall of a tree during monsons or otherwise. Till then, the onus lies on the Tree Authority.

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