BMC is paying too much for tree census in Aarey, alleges private company

A private company has alleged that the corporation has awarded the project for a tree survey in Aarey Colony unfairly, without following a tender process; it estimates that the BMC is paying 20-25% more than it should

With so much public attention on the fate of Aarey Milk Colony’s green cover, it’s not surprising that the BMC has for the first time decided to conduct a survey of the trees there. While this is a long due move, the corporation has run into criticism for the way it has awarded the tender for the survey.

The BMC estimates there are about five lakh trees spread across 14 sq km in Aarey Colony
The BMC estimates there are about five lakh trees spread across 14 sq km in Aarey Colony

Terracon Ecotech, a private company offering ecology-based advisory services and turnkey solutions has alleged that not only has the civic body awarded the tender for the survey unfairly, but it is also paying far more than it should.

This is the first time ever that the BMC has decided to carry out a survey of trees in Aarey Colony, well known for its extensive woodland. The BMC has, in the past, solely commissioned surveys of trees in the rest of the city, mapping some 19 lakh trees spread across 603 sq km, according to the 2008 tree census.

This year as well, it had already hired private company, SAAR IT Resources Pvt Ltd, for a city-wide survey excluding Aarey. According to the tender, it fixed Rs 9.9 per tree as the rate for the project, which will amount to over Rs 2 crore. The ongoing project will geo-tag the trees using GPS, recording details such as height, girth and life expectancy.

Now, after the tender has already been awarded, the BMC has decided to add Aarey Colony to the survey as well, and has agreed to pay the same rate. At Rs 9.9 per tree, this will cost the corporation another Rs 49.5 lakh. According to Terracon Ecotech, however, the cost should be far lower for Aarey Colony. In fact, the company claims it can do the same job for about 20 to 25 per cent less money.

According to officials from Terracon Ecotech, a tree survey in Aarey will be far easier than in the rest of the city because the trees will be concentrated in a much smaller area according to the BMC, there are around 5 lakh trees in the 14 sq km that contain Aarey Colony. This will take less time and effort, and does not justify such a high cost.

The company has already written to the municipal commissioner and the chairman of the Tree Authority, objecting to the sanctioned cost of the Aarey tree census (mid-day has a copy of the letter). In the letter, Terracon Ecotech has also questioned the way the Aarey project was awarded without holding a proper tender process.

The company alleged that the BMC neither advertised nor issued any tender for this exercise, depriving other qualified agencies of a fair chance. A spokesperson from the company said, “We believe that if the fair rate for undertaking a tree census for the city of Mumbai is Rs 9.90 (as is currently being contracted by BMC), then it should be at least 20-25% lower for Aarey Colony.

But this would best be determined if there is competition through open tender.” The official said Terracon Ecotech has over two decades of experience in similar projects across the country, including the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation, Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation, Islampur Municipal Council, etc.

“Our company was the only qualified (responsive) bidder for all four tree census tenders floated by the BMC in 2012 and 2013, and in the final tender we lost out to SAAR IT Resources Pvt Ltd, which had no prior experience in tree census and had formed a consortium with Apex Agencies of Nagpur for technical support,” added the spokesperson.

BMC Speak
“The organisation that has been hired to keep a tab on the number of trees in Mumbai is the same one which has been entrusted with the responsibility of counting trees in Aarey Colony. Hence, there is no question of issuing a fresh tender,” said Sitaram Kunte, municipal commissioner.

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