Recently, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority said 699 trees between Jacob Circle and Wadala would be axed for the construction of a monorail.
Moksh Juneja, a social media-marketing consultant and Chembur resident, blogged and tweeted about the issue hoping to find support. He then pleaded with the civic Tree Authority to find an alternative. “I want the monorail to be built, but Chembur has several factories. We need trees to control the pollution. If they must be axed, they should be transplanted in the vicinity,” he told the officers.
However, there are no such plans. There are plans to transplant 431 and replant (new trees planted in place of the ones cut) 1,400 at Mahim Nature Park, Wadala Depot, HPCL Mahul and BPCL Mahul. “What about trees for Chembur?” asked Juneja.
While Mumbai’s infrastructure is going through a much-needed overhaul, the construction is taking a toll on the green cover. On an average, 5,500 trees are chopped every year. However, that number doubled last year. According to the Tree Authority, 10,000 trees were lost in the last financial year for the construction of the monorail, skywalks, drains, etc.
Two thousand trees were supposed to be transplanted. However, the Tree Authority is clueless about how many were cut for each project or where they were transplanted or replanted.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has a policy in place. “For every tree chopped, two must be planted. The trees must be at least 10 feet high,” said Chandrashekar Rokde, deputy municipal commissioner. Considering the depleting green cover, the policy barely makes up for the loss.
Cities like Pune and Nashik that are grappling with their own development issues insist that three trees must be planted when one is axed. International standards mandate two trees per person. In Mumbai, there is only one tree for every seven people.
Dr Nilesh Baxi, environmentalist and nominated member of the Tree Authority, is skeptical about trees being replanted. “Going by the policy, if 10,000 were axed, Mumbai should have had 20,000 trees standing tall this monsoon. I doubt if even a few thousand were transplanted. Of the 699 trees to be chopped, few will survive transplantation and only about 500 might be replanted,” he said.
Experts believe the policy itself has loopholes. The survival rate of transplanted trees is low; most perish within months in the absence of guidelines to tend to them after relocation. Trees are often transplanted in green pockets away from the city. Rishi Agarwal, environmental activist, said: “What is the point of replanting or transplanting trees in Maharashtra Nature Park, Sanjay Gandhi National Park or Aarey Milk Colony where the tree density is already high? What about the heart of the city? Soon there will be areas completely deprived of tree cover.”
R.L. Wani, garden superintendent, when asked about data on transplanting and replanting, said it would be discussed in the next Tree Authority meeting and then released. However, when Niranjan Shetty, nominated member of the authority, asked for data, he was told that it was “too voluminous to compile”.