Mumbai: Chembur MLA proposes 20-feet vertical limit for trees

Aug 06, 2017, 08:31 IST | Sanjeev Shivadekar

After death of yoga instructor in tree fall, Shiv Sena wants state and BMC to transplant tall trees in open spaces, and have arterial roads sport greenery no taller than 20 feet

As bizarre ideas go, this MLA's solutions for tree fall deaths is right up there. Prakash Phaterpekar of the Shiv Sena wants the BMC and the state government to formulate a policy that allows only those trees to be planted on Mumbai's roads which won't grow beyond 20 ft.

He has also urged the BMC administration to depute a team of arborists to assess the feasibility of uprooting old and dangerous trees and transplanting them in open spaces elsewhere. The height restriction, he believes, will ensure that tree falls don't cause fatalities. "Mumbai shouldn't be shorn of its green cover but restricting the height will limit the extent of the disaster," says the Chembur MLA.

Phaterpekar, who had previously served as a ward corporator, has submitted a letter to the state legislature, asking for permission to raise a 'point of propriety' on the issue during the ongoing monsoon session. Point of propriety (under section 97 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules) allows a member to raise a matter of urgent importance, to which the minister concerned has to give a written answer in a month. "I will raise this issue in the assembly. If I don't get a chance to do so, I will write a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and request him to design such a policy," asserts Phaterpekar.

The ayes...
The suggestions come in the wake of Chembur resident Kanchan Nath's death on June 22, a day after a coconut tree fell on her while she was walking on the road. As per civic records, tree falls claimed 11 lives in the last three years. Besides, 1,404 complaints of old/dangerous trees were registered from June 1-July 24 alone this year. mid-day had on July 30 reported on the BMC failing to compensate victims and their families despite its clear negligence in the upkeep of trees.

The recommendations have the backing of Nath's husband, Rajat.

"As of now, there is no policy on compensation for victims of tree falls. A policy that conducts surveys of dangerous trees mandatory will be a welcome move," he says.

Jitendra Pardesi, superintendent of the gardens department in the BMC, feels that the height restriction idea could work. "Cities like Singapore follow such practices. They have placed height restrictions on tree growth. They don't allow trees to grow beyond 30 ft."

Coconut trees line a street at Marine Drive. Pic/Bipin Kokate

...and the nays
But, the suggestions aren't sitting well with environmental activists and political rivals. Activist Zoru Bathena, whose RTI application filed in January had revealed that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had made plans to cut 5,012 trees for Metro-III -- three times the initial estimate, sees "no logic" in the 20-ft height restriction. "What will one do with the existing trees? Besides, even trees shorter than 20 ft can cause grave injuries."

Drawing a rather odd parallel, he asks, "Thousands of people die in car and train accidents. Should we ban this mode of transport, too?"

Sanjiv Valsan, a citizen activist who has been protesting the ongoing Metro work, says the hacking of old trees will affect the 'health' of new ones in the vicinity. "All trees are interconnected. So, moving old ones out will affect the newer trees, which could lead to ever more tree falls."

Sanjay Nirupam, Mumbai Congress president, alleges that Phaterpekar's suggestions are a poor cover for the Sena's failures. "The Sena heads the BMC. To make up for his party's failures, the MLA has suggested transplantation of old and dangerous trees."
MNS leader Sandeep Desphande concurs with the Congress' view. "The suggestions are nothing but an attempt to hide the Sena's failure in providing quality civic amenities to Mumbaikars."

Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of citizen initiative NGO Alliance for Governance and Renewal, says the height of trees is irrelevant in the face of poor maintenance. "No standard operating procedure is followed in tree maintenance. The civic body prunes only those tree branches that face the road, leaving them unbalanced. This could make trees fall."

With inputs from Laxman Singh, Chetna Yerunkar and Ranjeet Jadhav

Trees that fit the bill
Bahava (golden shower), kousa, copper pod

Between 20-40 ft
Coconut, palm, peepal, audumber, badam, Gulmohar, Ashok, oak, pine, maple

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