It wasn’t as if the tree departments of municipal corporations always consulted environment groups and citizens before cutting or trimming trees.
The practice started only in 2008, when the corporations sought citizens’ approval before cutting down trees for projects, thanks to the efforts of 58-year-old Navi Mumbai resident Ajay Marathe.
Marathe had filed a Right to Information (RTI) application, seeking the reason for not consulting the citizens.
When he did not get a reply, he filed a complaint with the then state information commissioner, pointing out how the Maharashtra Tree Preservation Act, 1975, mandated that citizens be consulted before initiating the process.
Following a relentless campaign, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) allowed suggestions and objections from citizens on June 4, 2008. Notices were pinned up on trees seven days before they were to be cut down. Citizens could object and argue against the felling of the trees.
“It was not an easy fight,” said Marathe, adding, “We are all part of the environment, it is our responsibility to protect it.”
Marathe, a chemical engineer from IIT-Bombay, works as an animal welfare officer with the state government. His endeavours range from resolving noise pollution problems to tree preservation and protecting mangroves.
Since 2007, Marathe and his wife Nandini visit commercial and residential sites across Navi Mumbai to measure noise levels during festivals under Awaaz foundation’s annual project.
The readings are submitted to Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation, who forwards them to the municipal commissioners of Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai.
“We need help and support from residents from all over. He [Marathe] has been very dedicated and has made a difference in Navi Mumbai,” said Abdulali.
In February, Marathe managed to restrict the noise levels from places of worship. A mosque in Vashi stopped using loudspeakers during morning azaan. “Around 6am, the noise could be heard across a 2-km radius. As per MPCB guidelines, residential areas and silence zones have a safety limit of 55db and 50db during the day, respectively,” he said.
Vijay Kishore Kamble, garden superintendent, NNMC, said, “People in Navi Mumbai think twice before burning leaves, wood or damaging trees owing to the awareness created by Marathe. He has assisted our department in mitigating many problems.”