‘Didn’t know what I voted for as proceedings were in Marathi,’ says expert member on Aarey tree felling

Shashirekha Sureshkumar, expert member of the tree authority and botanist from Mithibai College, said she didn’t know what she voted for as the proceedings went on in Marathi.
Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) began work in Aarey Colony’s sector 19. Near by 100 trees were chopped in 2 days at Aarey Milk Colony for the Metro III car shed in Mumbai.(Satish Bate/HT file photo)
Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) began work in Aarey Colony’s sector 19. Near by 100 trees were chopped in 2 days at Aarey Milk Colony for the Metro III car shed in Mumbai.(Satish Bate/HT file photo)
Updated on Aug 31, 2019 04:33 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By

A day after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority approved the felling of 2,185 trees at Aarey for the Metro-3 project, Shashirekha Sureshkumar, expert member of the tree authority and botanist from Mithibai College, said she didn’t know what she voted for as the proceedings went on in Marathi. Another expert member on the committee, Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe from the Bhabha Atomic Centre, said the process was rushed.

“I wasn’t aware of what I was voting for as the proceedings were carried out hastily and the discussions were announced in Marathi. There was talk about taking more time for the final decision and a lot of shouting and screaming. So I thought the voting process was to push the hearing for the next date, and I voted in favour of it. To my shock, I later realised the tree felling proposal was passed,” said Sureshkumar. “The entire process was too politically charged, and what happened is wrong. I am extremely disappointed. Despite being a botanist, I am being labelled a murderer [of trees].”

The tree authority has the final power to approve or reject proposals related to tree cutting. When the proposal was cleared on Thursday, the number of trees to be affected for the project was reduced to 2,646 trees (2,185 to be cut and 461 to be transplanted) from 2,702 (2,238 to be cut and 464 to be transplanted), saving 56 trees. Earlier this month, a report of the panel, based on a site visit of the 30-hectare plot where the car shed will come up, said unique, heritage and indigenous trees and those above 50ft should be retained.

“The suggestions were shared on the basis of just one visit to a small portion of the site. There should have been at least eight site visits for a detailed report on such precious trees,” said Sureshkumar. “There has been some discrepancy in the tree naming process of the inventory submitted to us. One has to realise that we are managing our daily jobs, along with these issues. While we are guilty of being part of this decision, the authorities should have given more time to plan and assess the status of the trees for a project of this magnitude.”

Salunkhe said members will make another recommendation to safeguard more trees to protect the biodiversity of Aarey. “Based on our expertise, we submitted only preliminary findings. If we would have been given more time, things could have been clarified. The process was rushed,” he said.

Meanwhile, non-government organisation National Society of the Friends of Trees that nominated Sureshkumar and Salunkhe to the tree authority issued a clarification on Friday. “The decision by these two individuals is contrary to the stand of our association,” read the letter by Dr Ashok Kothari, president of the NGO.

In April, the BMC’s tree authority included five independent members, as per the Bombay high court (HC) orders, to suggest measures to preserve trees. These included Sureshkumar, Salunkhe, Subhash Patne, BSc in Agriculture; Manohar Sawant, PhD physical chemistry; and Deepak Apte, director, Bombay Natural History Society. Patne, Sureshkumar and Salunkhe were present at Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am satisfied as far as the tree authority proceedings are concerned,” said Patne.

Since November 2014, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) proposal to construct a car shed for its Metro-3 (Colaba-Bandra-Seepz) line at Aarey Colony has been mired in controversy.

Citizens and environmentalists have been at loggerheads with the MMRCL, opposing the construction on the grounds that Aarey is one of the last green lungs in Mumbai and home to a large variety of flora and fauna.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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