Mumbai rains: Collapse of trees due to showers is unnatural, say environmentalists

Environmentalists are worried that even rain trees, which can withstand rainfall, have fallen prey to the monsoon

Saturday's rainfall caused the felling of 123 trees (including branches) across the city, causing experts and activists to worry about the unnaturally high numbers. Experts have condemned haphazard concretisation, trenching and hacking of branches of trees, activities which lead to such a high number of tree falls every monsoon.

A 35-year-old tree was uprooted at Dadar during Friday’s downpour. Pic/Rane Ashish
A 35-year-old tree was uprooted at Dadar during Friday’s downpour. Pic/Rane Ashish 

The city experienced rainfall on Saturday as well, which was 10 per cent of the season's average. Apart from reports of parts of building slabs and plasters collapsing and short circuits, the city had hundreds of complaints of trees or their
branches falling.

The Western suburbs recorded the highest number of tree or branches falling (71) (71), followed by the island city (36) and eastern suburbs (23). City experts have termed this high number within last 24 hours as unnatural, since not all the trees, which had fallen, were old or aging. Also, they are questioning how rain trees or even banyan trees, which are not known to fall in the monsoon, have been falling over the past five years, showing a changing trend.

"Every monsoon, the BMC undertakes trimming of trees, for which it has a separate budget. But we are increasingly seeing rain trees dying in the city, which was not the trend some years ago. Sometimes even banyan trees fall in the monsoon," said ecologist Anand Pendharkar.

"Rain trees have been actively killed due to rampant concretisation. Sometimes, trees coming in the way of developmental projects are poisoned on purpose. Besides, the BMC lacks the expertise and the sincerity to proactively gauge weak trees and save them from falling, which causes a risk to life and traffic. The BMC does not have a taxonomist, an ecologist or a horticulturalist to supervise its activities. They don't even put the necessary tree guards," he added.

Besides, the BMC may conduct trimming of branches in such a way that the tree becomes imbalanced and eventually falls. "Actually, the BMC should map the pattern of the kind of trees that have been falling in the past decade and plan accordingly. They should plant or transplant trees considering the wind corridor, soil type, species and surface… they should have a policy in place for the species to be planted," said environment activist Rishi Agarwal.

Agarwal also stressed the need to identify trees which fall in waterlogged spots, and prevent them from weakening. He suggested the construction of soak pits every 100 metres, which will soak in rainwater, maintain groundwater levels and also prevent flooding around tree roots. Even BMC officials admit that it is the rampant road and footpath works which weaken tree roots which leads to healthy trees falling.

"Yes, the pattern of tree falls in monsoon has changed, and the only reason for it is concretisation. I had written letters to various departments of the BMC and ward offices to have better coordination in the matter. We had even removed accumulated asphalt from near tree roots. But it can't be said that trimming is done haphazardly.

We did a survey of trees last year, and based on several factors, decided which trees needed trimming," said Vijay Hire, superintendent of gardens, BMC. But even Hire admitted that the tree which fell on a lady in Agripada on Friday, killing her, was perfectly healthy. Hire is now coordinating with the disaster management department in the matter.


Havoc meter

The island city experienced 171 mm average rainfall on Saturday, while the Eastern and Western Suburbs had 174.0 mm and 137.0 mm respectively. The death toll has reached to six in the past two days.

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