Last Friday, we all put on our green capes and turned eco-warriors as the government planted 2 crore saplings under an ambitious drive to increase the state’s forest cover. But closer home, the truth has blown our cover: that it’s all lip service. A query under the RTI Act has revealed that the BMC has no idea where more than half the trees of a housing society in Andheri West have disappeared.
Excavation works in process at Yashodhan Cooperative Housing Society in Andheri
More worrying is the BMC’s revelation, in response to the RTI plea, that on the day transplantation of 26 of the 129 trees was to be done, none of its officials was present at the site.
In May last year, Yashodhan Cooperative Housing Society in Andheri West got permission from the gardens department of the BMC to remove trees coming in the way of a proposed 6-m-wide access for nullah cleaning and entry to the plot from an interior road at Lallubhai Park in Andheri West. The society is currently undergoing redevelopment.
RTI activist Santosh Gholap filed a plea under the RTI Act at the K-West ward office on May 12 this year, seeking details on the trees that were cut and transplanted. He also asked whether these works were supervised by the BMC, which is mandatory.
“In its reply, the BMC said as per the permission granted under Section 8(3) of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, five trees were to be cut, 26 to be transplanted and 98 others had to be retained on the premises of the housing society. But, there was no official from the BMC who supervised the transplantation and other activities. This itself proves that the BMC is not bothered about protecting trees,” alleged Gholap.
The society was directed to inform the junior tree officer of the local ward (K-West) about the date and time of cutting and transplanting of trees so that a representative from the office could ensure that the work was carried out properly. It was also told to plant 15 trees on the property within 30 days and to give a report to the tree officer on the condition of these trees once every six months for three years.
The BMC asked the society to obtain an NOC from the tree officer to plant trees in open spaces and recreational grounds as per the norms before getting a completion certificate for the newly-constructed buildings.
Where did pics come from?
But as per the BMC’s reply to the RTI query, no tree officer was present when the trees were cut or transplanted. But the ward office has colour photographs of the supposedly transplanted trees. “The RTI reply states that there was no junior tree officer was present. How has the office then got photographs of the transplanted trees?” asks Gholap.
Gholap has now written a letter to the CM, the forest minister, the BMC, the mayor and the K-West ward office, requesting appropriate action.
He also said local BJP MLA Ameet Satam has a flat in the society.
JS Pardesi, superintendent of gardens department, said, “I don’t have offhand information, but all the norms were followed.” An official from the gardens department alleged that Gholap is misleading the public. Local MLA Satam, too, said everything was done as per the law. “The officer inspected the site. The person who is making these allegations is doing so since I have taken action against a known criminal, Sanjay Pardeshi, who had usurped 3 acres of a government land in Juhu. Gholap is his sympathiser. He had also called me to help Pardeshi and tried to blackmail me, saying he would otherwise defame me. I have registered a police complaint against him.”
More than half gone
As per Google Earth images from 2013 and now sent to mid-day by Gholap, a large portion of the tree cover has gone missing since the works on the premises began.
“The BMC authorities may claim that the transplantation work was done properly and that the remaining trees are there on the plot, but the Google Earth images tell a different story. More than half the trees are missing now,” said the activist.