SoBo residents fight for their patch of green

It all started with a curtly worded notice -- dispatched by the powers that be at the BMC -- asking residents of Maharshi Karve Road at Nariman Point to tear down the 'strip garden' they maintained, so the roads in the area could be widened. But for locals, it was not just any green stretch that would bite the proverbial dust, joining millions of trees and beasts that have been sacrificed at the altar of development. It was an ecosystem that teemed with life rare and beautiful; it was home to a diverse multitude of birds, butterflies and plants. The value of life seemed to far outweigh the importance of a few wider lanes.

Tree spirits: An aerial view of the densely vegetated patch that may be
sacrificed for the sake of wider roads. PIC/SURESH KK

And thus started a fierce campaign -- on Facebook and through letters -- to protect a patch of green that sustains no less than 40-50 trees, some of them wizened, gnarled,  over 100 years old, skirting the lanes in their locality.

'Mow those trees'
BMC dispatched cautionary letters to the residents of Dilwara and Shalaka buildings and the officials of Cooperage Telephone Exchange on December 26 last year, intimating them that the stretch from the exchange to the Wodehouse Gymkhana would be widened, and trees needed to be lopped off for the additional space. It read, 'It is noticed that in the setback area, a strip garden has been developed by you... you are requested to arrange to remove the same within seven days, to enable the Corporation to widen this road. In case you fail to do so, the strip garden will be removed by the corporation at your risk, cost.'

Far from being relieved that the congested road would get more breathing space,  residents were outraged when they received the notice. Joining their forces, the residents' association shot back a reply to the assistant municipal commissioner of their ward, suggesting some feasible alternatives to the proposal of felling trees. They recommended that the lanes be made one-way, to ease traffic congestion.

In their plea, the residents elaborated that the green stretch in question sustained different species of trees -- the Fish Tail Palm, Ashoka, Yellow Flame, Palm -- only to name a few. The stretch was frequented by a dizzying variety of birds  -- including Golden Orioles, Coppersmiths, Koels, Parakeets, Kites and sparrows -- and butterflies. An irreversible loss of their habitat could have lasting consequences on the environment. Moreover, they pointed out, the Cooperage football ground that came up recently depleted the green cover of the area drastically.

Ashad Mehta, president of Oval Cooperage Residents Association, said, "We are not against the government's decision. But why should we surrender open ground space when it is already dwindling? We have provided alternatives to ease the traffic congestion to the assistant commissioner, but haven't received any reply."

Resident Ruchir Bansal has created a page on Facebook, which sensitises readers about the negative impact that the felling of these trees could have on the environment. He said, "Residents are not against road widening, but against the idea that the oldest trees in the area will be mowed down. The lanes in the area can be made one-way to ease traffic. We have started a campaign on Facebook, to alert residents about the damage that deforestation could do to the environment."

A senior official from BMC's road department said, "The department had submitted a proposal to the Tree Authority, for cutting and replanting around 100 trees which would pose as obstacles in the road widening process. We are waiting for the approval still. But residents have met the assistant commissioner and presented their case. The decision ultimately lies with the higher-ups. The road, which is currently less than 60 feet in width, has to be widened up to 90 feet, so utility lines can be laid and new roads built."

"Some trees that come in the way have to be cut and replanted. The ones on the edges would not be touched," said Additional Municipal Commissioner Aseem Gupta.
(Inputs by Rinkita Gurav)

Did you know?
At present, work worth Rs 550 crore and Rs 345 crore are underway on major and minor roads respectively. These roads are being concretised and asphalted.

Points to ponder
Points emphasised upon by the residents:
A few buildings, which may be harmed by the widening, are heritage structures. Any damage to them is undesirable.

Not only would the proposed widening aggravate parking problems, it could also give rise to security hazards for their elderly residents.

If traffic density is sought to be reduced, there are some alternatives that may be explored:
a) Prohibiting parking on one side of the road, or even extend the restriction to both sides during peak hours.
b) Increase parking charges.
c) Restrict the right turn at the north end of the Maharshi Karve Road and shift it to  Cooperage Road.  This would improve traffic distribution across the two roads
d) Designate the stretch of the Maharshi Karve Road as a one-way road

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