More than 3,000 heritage trees are set to be axed for a road widening project, just 40km away from Mumbai.
According to the data accessed under the Right to Information Act, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will hack 3,027 full-grown trees, which form a canopy along the 20km Shirsad-Ambadi road in the Bhiwandi-Vasai taluka in Thane district, to convert the current two-lane road into a four-lane roadway. This, in effect, means that 150 trees will be uprooted from every 1km stretch. Many of the trees that will be lost are indigenous and fruit-bearing trees such as banyan, mango, coconut and almond.
The area through which the road passes is located in the Tansa river basin, which is also a tributary of the Vaitarna River. The Vaitarna and Tansa Rivers supply drinking water to Mumbai.
According to environmentalists, deforestation leads to evaporation of surface water in water bodies and soil erosion that affects the quality of water. Trees are vital for protection of catchment areas, maintaining carbon balance and photosynthesis.
As Mumbai’s growth has moved beyond its periphery over the last few years, areas in the MMR such as Vasai-Virar, Bhiwandi-Nizampur and Mira-Bhayander have come under immense pressure of urbanisation, industrialisation and real estate development. It has disturbed the delicate balance of the eco-system.
Environmentalists have demanded realignment of the road to prevent trees from getting cut.
“While road widening is a welcome move, hacking of trees and transplantation are not. It would be criminal to destroy so many trees in the name of development or road widening,” said Stalin D of Vanashakti, a non-government organisation. “Why does every act of civil engineering treat nature as a disposable commodity?”
With both the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (85 sqkm) and Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary (320 sqkm) on either sides of the road, the plan has no arrangement for an underpass or an over pass to facilitate the movement of wild animals between the sanctuaries.
“The trees will be transplanted, so they are not lost. The road widening is being done because it connects the national highways of Nashik, Pune and Gujarat,” said SB Tamsekar, chief engineer, MMRDA. “We arrived at a decision to cut trees only after conducting a careful study.”