Let citizens become custodians of Mumbai’s green heritage | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Let citizens become custodians of Mumbai’s green heritage

Mumbai city news: Just as conservation committees look after Mumbai’s architectural heritage, why not let the people of Mumbai also become stakeholders in its greenery?

mumbai Updated: Jun 09, 2017 00:34 IST
Ayaz Memon
Felling of trees for the metro rail project has been hogging media space for a while now: to the point of becoming a controversy where all kinds of people and opinions have arisen leading to a melee in which a clear direction or strategy seems to have got lost.
Felling of trees for the metro rail project has been hogging media space for a while now: to the point of becoming a controversy where all kinds of people and opinions have arisen leading to a melee in which a clear direction or strategy seems to have got lost.(HT file )

My favourite place at the Mumbai Press Club is the verandah outside the main hall (not the bar inside!), which adjoins a smallish garden on the periphery of the Azad Maidan.

It is a functional space with a few tables and chairs, but which I prefer to the indoors, as it gives me relief from the crushing pace of the city. I often do my writing sitting here with a cup of steaming hot tea and pakodas, a ‘speciality’ of the club.

Soon, though, the verandah and the garden will be surrendered as the MMRC’s metro rail project gathers momentum. There is some remorse at this development among press club members, though everybody appreciates it is in the larger good.

What agonises me is the fate of the trees in the Press Club garden and surrounding precincts? There are not too many of them to be honest. But however limited their number, they’ve been an intrinsic to the Press Club’s ambience and their loss will hurt.

Felling of trees for the metro rail project has been hogging media space for a while now: to the point of becoming a controversy where all kinds of people and opinions have arisen leading to a melee in which a clear direction or strategy seems to have got lost.

In my opinion, it is easy — but rather puerile — in getting maudlin about this. As cities evolve and grow in size or through some other demands, some of this becomes inevitable. This is true of the biggest urban centres in the world.

The Bombay high court has now advised environmentalists and citizens protesting against the destruction of tree cover — especially in South Mumbai — by the MMRC to take a “pragmatic view” and not oppose the cutting of trees.

The honourable judges have pointed out that the Mumbai Metro should have been built 30 years ago and that the potential gain from a large public transport system cannot be dismissed lightly. One can’t entirely disagree with this.

Most big cities in the world — London, Paris, New York and Tokyo, to name a few — rely on metro rail to facilitate the commute of lakhs and lakhs of people every day. This is easily the best form of mass rapid transport and frankly Mumbai should have had metro rail a few decades ago.

The court has obviously looked at the larger picture: the convenience of commuters and the hope that more public transport will mean fewer cars on the road and correspondingly, less pollution.

How to implement a much-needed facility without causing too much environmental damage is the challenge now. Although there has been plenty of anguish over the cutting of some 5,000 trees and 180 mangroves from Colaba to the Bandra-Kurla Complex, the courts have not been as sympathetic as activists may have hoped.

However, if we assume that the high court is correct (and I’ll reiterate that Mumbai needs a metro railway badly), assurances by MMRC and various authorities involved that lost trees and lost mangroves will be replanted does not fill one with confidence.

As seen time and again, almost every tree planting attempt by government agencies has been disastrous. The dry barren front that Marine Drive remains a decade after its ‘beautification’ is a constant reminder of this. Not to mention all the beautiful palms lifted from Marine Drive only to die at Oval Maidan.

The usual response of the authorities is to replace old trees with tiny saplings which need a lot of looking after and often do not survive the harsh vagaries of city life. By the time this happens, no one remembers who was responsible for planting more trees and what anyone is supposed to do.

So, while the high court’s view that we must be “pragmatic” and embrace the new leg of the Metro is well taken, I venture that this should be done in consultation between multiple stakeholders and experts.

The crux is in how the project is implemented so as to cause the least damage while getting the most desired results. This is best achieved by finding a consensus between the state administration, credible environmentalists, urban planners with a deep sense of aesthetics and not the least the people of Mumbai.

Just as conservation committees look after Mumbai’s architectural heritage, why not let the people of Mumbai also become stakeholders in its greenery?