Mumbai: In race for growth, 200 trees are collateral damage for BMC

Trees were moved to make way for a tunnel in Bhandup Water Complex. It now turns out the procedure was not carried out properly and most of the trees that were moved have dried up

For the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the loss of over 200 trees is a small price to pay for development. Two years ago, it uprooted these trees from the Bhandup water treatment plant complex and transplanted them on the same premises to make way for a tunnel linking the complex to Marol Maroshi. But the trees never stood a chance of survival. They have been poorly maintained — many left for dead and cement splattered at the roots of some others.

Also read: Mumbai: Are dead trees being transplanted in Aarey?

Cement, concrete and crushed stones — from the tunnelling work nearby — have been dumped at the roots of many trees, leading to their death. Pics/Rajesh Gupta
Cement, concrete and crushed stones — from the tunnelling work nearby — have been dumped at the roots of many trees, leading to their death. Pics/Rajesh Gupta

Around a week ago, Rajesh Gupta, a freelance photographer, visited the area where the trees have been transplanted, which abuts the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and found that a majority of them appeared to be dead. Transplanted trees can be identified by the identification number tags pasted on them by the BMC. Gupta also found cement, concrete and crushed stones — from the tunnelling work nearby — at the roots of many trees. He found many trees near the water body, ruling out any excuse that water for the trees has to be hauled over long distances.

Many transplanted trees at the Bhandup water treatment plant complex have dried up. The roots of some others have been clogged by cement-concrete mixtures from the tunnelling work nearby
Many transplanted trees at the Bhandup water treatment plant complex have dried up. The roots of some others have been clogged by cement-concrete mixtures from the tunnelling work nearby

The tunnel project began in 2014, but it has overshot its December 2015 deadline. Since the work is being carried out in phases, the number of trees uprooted and transplanted has varied over time. As per the plan, over 400 trees will be affected by the project. Environmentalists have been opposing the transplantation work since they feel that such trees’ chances of survival are slim.

An environmentalist confirmed that over 200 trees have been transplanted over the last two years. “But the transplantation was a farce. No one has bothered to check if the trees have survived.”

The authorities can’t blame the poor maintenance on water shortage since many of the trees have been transplanted close to the water body on the premisesThe authorities can’t blame the poor maintenance on water shortage since many of the trees have been transplanted close to the water body on the premises

S Gavit, deputy superintendent of gardens, BMC, said the contractor and the civic body’s hydraulic engineering department together shoulder the responsibility of transplanted trees’ maintenance. “We will write a letter to the department, asking it why the trees are not being properly cared for.”

Niranjan Shetty, member of the BMC’s Tree Authority, felt that the contractor alone should be held responsible. “The project may be the BMC’s, but the contractor is being paid for the work. So, he should be held responsible if the trees are not being taken care of properly.”

‘End the farce’
Environmentalist Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti demanded that the “farce of transplantation” be stopped immediately. “The BMC and other development agencies do not have an expertise in transplantation. Trees are not paperweights to be moved around; the process requires careful scientific handling. Going by the way the BMC and other agencies undertake the transplantation work, the survival rate of trees drops to less than 5%.”

According to another environmentalist, it wasn’t the tunnel project alone that needed transplantation of trees. The BMC administration had placed two proposals on uprooting and transplanting trees at the Bhandup Water Complex in 2009. Permission was sought to remove 1,812 trees in phase one and 534 trees in the second for construction of a master balance reservoir in middle Vaitarna dam.

As per the approved plan, 1,001 trees were to be transplanted in phase one and 188 in phase two. A majority of this transplantation work has been completed.

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