Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) has decided to set up a committee, that will include citizens, to monitor the cutting of trees for the SEEPZ-Colaba Metro.
On Tuesday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met citizens who had filed a petition in the Bombay high court, against the cutting of trees for the project. On February 10, the court had passed an order that put a stop to the hacking of trees for the Metro. It also expressed the need to form an independent committee to look into the matter. The next day, the court said that it would not withdraw the restraint on cutting of trees unless the authorities convinced the bench that they had been following the provisions of the Protection and Preservation of Trees Act. The next hearing is scheduled for February 17.
After a three-minute meeting with Nina Verma, Pervin Jehangir and Zoru Bhathena (the petitioners), Fadnavis directed MMRCL to set up a committee that includes them and look into the issue to make sure that minimal number of trees are cut for the project.
“While we assured the CM that we are not anti-metro and in fact, believe that it will be a boon for Mumbai, we also requested him to look into the unnecessary felling of trees throughout Mumbai, because to the project,” said Bhathena. “The CM said that setting up a metro would reduce carbon footprint but agreed that destruction of trees was against the government’s objective,” Bathena added. “We were assured that trees will be saved as he immediately called MMRCL officers and asked them to set up a committee to look into this issue.”
The chief minister’s office later tweeted, “CM instructed Constitution of joint team of officials of MumbaiMetroRail Corp & prominent citizens to study impact & minimise loss of trees.”
According to MMRCL, 5,012 trees will have to go during construction , of which 1,331 will be cut and 3,681 will be transplanted. The petitioners went to the court after the hacking began at Cuffe Parade in January.
MMRCL officials said that a meeting had been scheduled with the three petitioners on Wednesday morning. “Our managing director has received intimation from the CM and an internal committee is being set up. However, we are meeting the citizens on Wednesday. We will try to understand their issues regarding the project and try to address them,” said R Ramana, executive director (planning), MMRCL.
Meanwhile, environmentalists said that the CM had made similar promises in the past but nothing had come of it. “For the same project in 2015, the CM had appointed a committee but trashed the opinion of environment experts. If this committee has reputed scientists, it is welcome. However, if bureaucrats call the shots again, then it is a waste of time for everyone,” said Stalin Dayanand, director, NGO Vanashakti.
The 33km-long SEEPZ-Colaba line of Metro 3 — with 27 stations — will be completely underground
While 5,012 trees will be cut for the entire project and 3,681 transplanted, 2,598 are likely to be affected – 254 will be cut and 2,044 transplanted at Aarey Milk Colony. Trees will also be transplanted at Mysore Colony and Mahul Village. The underground line will be built under the cut-and-cover and NATM (New Austrian Tunneling Method)
According to MMRCL, the underground metro stations will be the size of nearly two football grounds. “We will open up the entire trench and start building the station — from underground to the upper layers. There will be a 6m soil cover over the station. However, under NATM, a very small area will be excavated underground, through open-cut technique, which will save as much open spaces and trees,” said R Ramana, executive director (planning), MMRCL.
What the petitioners want?
Protection of the green cover across Mumbai, and felling as few trees as possible.
While they are not against the project, they have identified that the number of trees to be hacked or transplanted by the MMRCL has been increasing over the years.
(The current estimate of 5,012 trees is almost three times the original Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) estimate of 1,745, of which 673 were to be hacked and 1,072 were to be transplanted, as per their environment assessment report for the Metro III project from 2012. Similarly, as opposed to the earlier estimate of six trees to be cut at Cuffe Parade, 98 trees will be destroyed)
Use modern technology to hack, transplant trees
After speaking to experts, engineers and scientists, the petitioners said that rather than using 60-year-old methods like cut-and-cover or partial cut using NATM, a new technology was available to easily transplant the trees and reduce the number that has been planned.