Mumbai’s green cover is paying the price for development and urbanisation — last year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) Tree Authority gave permission to axe 11,072 trees.
The Tree Authority is a civic committee from which permission must be sought before any tree is cut. It comprises, apart from civic officials and corporators, environmental experts.
Civic data shows that the Tree Authority Committee, chaired by the municipal commissioner, while giving the permission, ordered the transplant of only 7,420 trees. The trees were chopped to make way for housing and other infrastructure projects.
According to the latest tree census, conducted in 2008, Mumbai has close to 20 lakh trees. That’s one tree for every 6.24 residents. New York, on the other hand, has three trees per person.
Activists said that the BMC prefers development over green cover, and gives no serious thought while allowing the felling of trees. “The Tree Authority must study the impact of the felling. Giving such arbitrary permission will kill the green cover,” said Atulya Bhatt, an environmental activist.
Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Gardens) Suhas Karvande said the Tree Authority scrutinises each proposal and does not allow a single tree more than required to be cut.
He said the BMC has been trying to make the mandate stricter. Earlier, the system was to plant two saplings for each tree chopped, but now the Tree Authority favours the planting of a tree instead as their survival rate is better than that of saplings.
According to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act (1975), it is mandatory to plant two trees for each tree cut. However, activists believe this norm is flouted regularly as there is no mechanism to check that it is being followed.
Residents of Goregoan protested against the permission given to a developer to chop 30 trees to make way for a building. “One night, some men started to chop trees that were at least 40 years old. They said they would transplant the trees. How can you transplant trees that are so old? The rule is a farce,” said Ketki Kulkarni, a Goregaon resident.
Experts said the survival rate of transplanted trees in Mumbai is not more than 10% and that the BMC’s field staff, who are supposed to nurture transplanted trees, are neglecting their duty.
Niranjan Shetty, a Tree Authority member, said: “The survival rate of transplanted trees is 4% to 10%. The BMC has appointed junior tree officers, but they don’t inspect transplanted trees. If a transplanted tree dies, it is not accounted for.”