MMRDA eyes ‘early afforestation’ to clear path for future projects

Published on Jun 27, 2022 07:54 PM IST
The approach is similar to a 2019 plantation drive carried out by the MMRDA over 46 hectares of degraded forest land in Titwala and Shilphata, in which over 51,000 native saplings were planted
However, environmentalists said this approach sets a poor regulatory precedent, and that clearances for individual projects should be granted on a case-by-case basis (Praful Gangurde)
However, environmentalists said this approach sets a poor regulatory precedent, and that clearances for individual projects should be granted on a case-by-case basis (Praful Gangurde)
ByPrayag Arora-Desai

Mumbai The Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMRDA) has asked the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) to identify a suitable parcel of degraded forest land in the state for large-scale afforestation works, to be undertaken in anticipation of development projects in and around the Mumbai metropolitan region over the next three to four years.

The aim, officials privy to the development said, is to preemptively plant a significantly higher number of trees than those which may be proposed for felling by MMRDA in the near future, which will speed up clearances from stakeholders like the state forest department, urban local bodies and the Maharashtra State Tree Authority (MSTA).

An official with the MMRDA’s horticulture department, under conditions of anonymity, said, “There are several transport and infrastructure projects which the Authority will be pursuing in the coming years, like the Wadala-CSTM underground metro corridor, metro lines 10, 11, 12, Nariman Point Cuffe Parade connector, Gorai creek bridge and so on. We do not have an estimated figure, but as with any development project, trees will be affected. We want to carry out compensatory afforestation in advance. It will help the environment and speed up clearances for these projects.”

The approach is similar to a 2019 plantation drive carried out by the MMRDA and FDCM over 46 hectares of degraded forest land in Titwala and Shilphata, in which over 51,000 native saplings were planted. Based on this effort, the MSTA earlier this month cleared three key projects of the MMRDA’s, including the Worli-Sewri connector (which will lead to cutting of 305 trees), construction of Metro line 2 from Kalanagar to Bandra-Kurla Complex (344 trees), construction of a Metro viaduct from DN Nagar to Nanavati Hospital (233 trees).

Sadashiv Rote, range forest officer with the FDCM, said, “Preemptively doing such a large-scale plantation drive has benefited MMRDA. They are not foresters, so they approached us to do the plantation and the success rate of the saplings is well above 80% in Titwala and Shilphata. We have now been asked to lookout for other land where they can conduct a similar exercise, so when future projects are seeking clearances, they can be processed without any hindrances. Finding the correct place will take some time though. We have not yet started looking.”

However, environmentalists said this approach sets a poor regulatory precedent, and that clearances for individual projects should be granted on a case-by-case basis. “The State Tree Authority was formed in order to save trees from being cut down. But now it is clearing new projects because of a single plantation drive done two years ago, without asking the MMRDA any further questions. There is no provision for any such bulk deal in the Tree Act. This will one hundred per cent put authorities in a situation where they will be compelled to clear the MMRDA’s projects without much scrutiny,” said Stalin D, director of environment NGO Vanashakti, which is a petitioner in the case of the Metro-3 carshed at Aarey.

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