Apathy or sabotage, what's killing Mumbai's rain trees?

Jun 06, 2015, 07:10 IST | Suresh KK and Ranjeet Jadhav

Despite the National Green Tribunal issuing a directive to the BMC to protect rain trees, mid-day found several trees withering; while some say this is due to neglect, others allege trees close to construction sites are being ‘murdered’

While the authorities may have made a show of observing World Environment Day with plantation drives and the distribution of saplings, officials seem less interested in making an actual effort to protect the city’s green cover.

Also read: Tree transplant at Aarey flops as 20 about to die

In January this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had sought to prevent the further death of rain trees in Mumbai, and instructed the BMC to remove concrete and paver blocks from the roots to allow water to seep in.

However, mid-day has found that even four months later, rain trees across the city continue to wither. This, some green activists and citizens have alleged, is because the corporation is not interested in saving the rain trees, while others have hinted at sabotage, pointing out that trees that are closer to new construction sites were at particular risk.

Rain trees at Santacruz are also shrivelling due to neglect, and as some allege, sabotage. Locals allege that trees closer to construction sites are at greater risk. Pic/Suresh KK
Rain trees at Santacruz are also shrivelling due to neglect, and as some allege, sabotage. Locals allege that trees closer to construction sites are at greater risk. Pic/Suresh KK

In January, after the NGO Vanashakti approached the western zone bench of the NGT, it had given the BMC three months to remove the concrete and paver blocks surrounding the base of trees to allow water to reach the roots. “In January, the bench had clearly told the BMC to remove the concrete surrounding the base of trees in three months, but till date nothing much has been done.

This proves that the BMC is not serious,” said Stalin Dayanand, Vanashakti president. This reporter found several trees were still being neglected in locations such as Santacruz and Khar. Locals in Mahim and the Model Town area in Andheri had similar concerns. And, as they had pointed out, more often than not, these trees were in close proximity to construction sites.

On the road going from Khar Linking Road to Khar Danda, it was observed that more than 15 rain trees had died. These trees are more than 20 to 30 years old. Local residents claim the rain trees had started dying more than a year ago, and if the BMC had made an effort, it could have saved these trees.

That the BMC is aware of the situation is evident from the markings on the shrivelling trees; each of the dead or dying rain trees has been marked in a BMC survey. Despite that, the trees did not seem to have been watered either.

‘It’s murder’
In the Santacruz area as well, the situation is the same. Locals alleged that the trees had not died a natural death, but were poisoned. “We have been staying here since the past 25 years and I was shocked to see that the trees have suddenly started dying at locations close to new buildings or constructions that are coming up.

We have seen people injecting substances into the trees and believe that they were poisoning the trees. We are going to approach the higher authorities and ask that action be taken against those who are murdering the trees,” said a resident, on condition of anonymity.

Making excuses?
The three-month deadline has come and gone, and the BMC is yet to finish removing the paver blocks around trees. During a recent NGT hearing, the bench asked the BMC why the work hadn’t been done already, to which the civic body responded saying that the work had been stalled since the monsoon was approaching. Activists present during the hearing told mid-day that the court was not happy with the BMC’s excuses.

BMC speak
Pravin Gosavi, deputy superintendent (gardens), said, “The work of removing the cement around the base of the trees is in progress and we have done the work in K/East and other wards so far. Soon, the work of removing the cement surrounding the tree base will be completed at other places in the western suburbs too.”

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