There has been a simmering debate over the BMC's decision to fell trees at Aarey Milk colony to make space for a car depot for the Metro line III. Of late, the press has been buzzing with reports about the heated battle that environmental activists and officials have had with reference to tree felling.

The Aarey fracas though is simply a microcosm of what has been happening in the city. We see so many examples of authorities cutting down trees, activists and citizens on the other side, striving to protect them. Mumbai has seen so many instances of the ‘Chipko’ movement, where citizens hug trees not allowing officials to bring them down for whatever reason.

What is needed though is greater transparency and awareness about tree cutting. We have seen tree cutting done by people surreptitiously, sometimes at night, obviously to hide from any punitive action. Citizens who want to protest the cutting, often do not know the avenue or how they are supposed to stop it. Often, it is very late, by the time some action is taken, the tree is already cut. There is a lot of grey area surrounding such cases and it is important all this needs to be sorted out.

For instance, there is also the stipulation that when trees are cut with permission, for example if a builder cuts a tree for an upcoming project, they are supposed to plant a certain number of trees to compensate for the cut trees. Yet, one has to ask if these trees are being planted, if yes, where are they being planted? Is anybody monitoring if they have been planted? Is the stipulated number of trees being replanted?

There needs to be much for clarity on the tree policy and rules to be followed in case of tree cutting in Mumbai. While certain cases may certainly warrant it, like if a tree poses a danger to persons, one must try to save all trees in this concrete jungle. Trees give us so much and development should not take place at the cost of environment.

They are a Mumbaikar’s best friend.