Cyclone Tauktae felled 812 trees in city: Time to dig deeper for cause

Published on May 27, 2021 01:04 AM IST

Tree damage after Cyclone Tauktae, which uprooted at least 812 trees in Mumbai as per official data, has once again brought to attention allegedly poor horticultural practices by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)

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ByPrayag Arora-Desai, Mumbai

Tree damage after Cyclone Tauktae, which uprooted at least 812 trees in Mumbai as per official data, has once again brought to attention allegedly poor horticultural practices by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Over the past week, several environmentalists and activists pointed out that a significant number of uprooted trees had not been planted in adequately-sized basins. At least 15 such instances have been brought to the notice of Hindustan Times since March 16.

“This would have certainly contributed to the tree’s fate because it needs a fully-developed root system to keep it anchored. Too small tree basins, especially for larger trees, hamper this. More worryingly, several trees which fell did not even have any discernible basins around them, and were concretised or paved all the way to the trunk. When this happens, the underlying critical root zone could get disturbed, weakening the tree’s structural integrity,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti.

Stalin on Tuesday wrote to

BMC and environment department, requesting the authorities to take corrective measures before the onset of

monsoon. “This email is to voice our concerns about the precarious condition of the trees of Mumbai and Thane city.

All the trees are standing in shallow concrete tree basins and have no soil for the roots to grip and stand firm,” Stalin’s letter stated. According to regular logs maintained by Vanashakti, there are at least 500 large, old-growth trees in Mumbai and Thane which require urgent de-paving.

One particular locality where this problem is conspicuous, according to environmentalists, is south Mumbai’s Ballard Estate, where wide roads are lined with large banyans and gulmohars among others. A visit to the area on Wednesday by a HT team found BMC workers clearing up trees that fell during last week’s cyclone. HT identified at least six large trees that had been completely uprooted, while at least a dozen others were vaulting or bursting out of their tree basins, causing cracks in the pavement.

“Giant trees on the road towards RBI signal and the road alongside Port Trust Bhavan have died after concreting of the roads and basins was done. The remaining trees in Ballard Estate will collapse and fall in this monsoon or within the next year if urgent steps are not taken... Despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering that tree bases must be freed of concrete, and soil be provided for the tree bases, no action has been taken so far. Neither depth nor lateral space is available for the trees to anchor itself,” Stalin informed the authorities.

In 2015, Vanashakti had approached NGT seeking remedial measures against rampant concretisation over root zones of large trees in Mumbai. In a subsequent order dated September 10, 2015, the tribunal instructed BMC to implement a “de-concretisation programme... in phased manner, ward by ward and not selectively but in contiguous manner”.

BMC, for its part, had conveyed to NGT in September itself that around 11,790 trees in the city had already been de-concretised, but given there were an estimated 1.9 million trees in the city at the time, covering them all would take considerably longer. It is unclear whether the programme has continued to be implemented in the years since.

Officials in BMC’s tree authority and garden department did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

“The programme has either tapered off or is being implemented too slowly. The situation after Cyclone Tauktae shows clearly that the order has not been complied with fully. Had it been so, we may have lost fewer trees,” said Zaman Ali, advocate for Vanashakti in the matter, referring to guidelines prescribed by the ministry of urban development in its Urban Green Guidelines, 2014.

“A minimum area of 1.25x1.25 metre around the trees be left un-cemented and widening of roads up to the trunk of trees be avoided, as roots come under the asphalted roads, which will gradually die. In case of storm, these trees may topple. Activities which adversely affect the roots are to be minimised,” the guidelines stated. However, as Ali pointed out, these are only directive principles and not legally binding.

“But such guidelines are still required to be followed in absence of a statutory directive,” he added.

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