Fall season

Jun 19, 2012, 07:22 IST | Team MiD DAY

As part of its campaign to gauge how rain-ready the city is, MiD DAY examined how safe and strong our trees are to endure against strong monsoon winds

Enjoying the gusty monsoon winds and the relief they bring you from the soaring temperatures? Beware, these winds may bring down the trees in your locality, injuring you or damaging your property.

In the past few years, many citizens have lost their lives, their property, or their limbs, when branches of trees, not trimmed and maintained by the BMC, have come crashing down on them. As part of its campaign, MiD DAY took stock of the situation, only to discover that the BMC hasn’t really learnt its lessons from the past.

Over the years, many unsuspecting citizens suffered terrible accidents owing to the BMC’s negligence. MiD DAY spoke to some of them

Victim: Nikhil Kamdar;
Date: December 27, 2010;
Location: Paliram Road, Andheri (West)

A pall of sorrow hangs over the Kamdar residence at Navin Nagar No 2 Co-operative Housing Society at Santacruz (West) still. Even the sight of six-year-old Aariya enjoying her chocolates fails to lift the gloom surrounding the framed and garlanded photo of her father, Nikhil Kamdar, her father, who died in 2010 when the branch of a 25-year-old tamarind tree fell on him near the Parsi agiary on Paliram Road in Andheri (West). It hit his head, and the brain haemorrhage from the wound claimed his life. 

Uprooted: A tree came crashing down on a cluster of public benches on the pavement on June 9 near the Dadar TT circle. Thanks to the fact that no local was taking a breather on any of the benches at the time of the incident, no casualties were reported. Pic/Shadab Khan

He was waiting for his elder brother, Ashish Kamdar, to return from the local ward office when the tragic accident took place. Ashish recollected, “I left him at the compound and went ahead to pay the taxes. Suddenly, I heard noises outside and came to know about the incident. I rushed him to the hospital immediately, but it was too late. Everything happened within a matter of 30 minutes. Had I allowed him to go ahead and complete the work for me, I would have been the victim.”

The family received compensation of Rs1 lakh from the BMC. One-and-a-half years have passed since the unfortunate accident, but the Kamdar family is still reeling from the tragedy. Hetal Kamdar, Nikhil’s wife, gives tuitions for school students to make a living. “After a lot of hassles, we did receive the monetary compensation. But how does that compensate for the human loss? Ever since the accident, the trees in the area have been maintained. Why didn’t they honour their responsibilities earlier? Were they in such deep slumber that needed a wake-up call as severe as my husband’s death?” said the mourning wife.

Ashish expressed fear that the number of such incidents could rise this year. “We are only receiving pre-monsoon showers, and I have already witnessed two cases. A biker near Triveni Society in our locality escaped death by a fraction of a second, when the branch of a tree suddenly broke off and narrowly missed him.

A similar case occurred near Akbarally’s a few days ago,” said Ashish. He also expressed his fervent request to the BMC to take prompt action and attend to the complaints made by residents regarding the pruning of trees. “I know how difficult it is to adjust to routine life after such a grave loss,” he added.

Family members of Ved Prakash Arya, Manisha Bhansali and her daughter Aarti are in still in a state of shock, having lost their loved ones last year in two separate incidents at Versova and Nariman Point respectively. While Arya’s family refused to speak to MiD DAY, Manisha’s husband Naresh said, “I am not able to forget the incident and I am trying very hard. My daughter was very young and I am still not able to get over them. I don’t want to talk about any authority at all as they do not do anything for us.”

Victim: Antara
Telang; Date: July 24, 2010
Location: Sion Circle

In 2010, Sion resident Antara Telang (20) had to have her right leg amputated, and also fractured her left leg, when the branch of a tree fell on her. Speaking to MiD DAY, she expressed her disappointment over the fact that other citizens are suffering the same fate as she did, even today owing to inability of BMC officials to learn from their mistakes.

Pic/Suresh KK

On July 24, 2010, Antara was on her way back home from GTB Nagar railway station. She had stopped to buy vegetables from a vendor, when suddenly a huge branch from a tree next to her came crushing down.

She lost consciousness, and when she came to, she found herself in the hospital, surrounded with nurses and doctors. Antara said, “Though the incident does not bother me anymore, it will always a part of my memory. I had to spend over three weeks in the hospital, where three surgeries were performed on my right leg. Even after my discharge, I was forced to use a wheelchair for three months.

I was afraid that I would lose an academic year, but thankfully my college allowed me to appear for my exams. Now, I am able to walk comfortably, and I travel by local train on my own, without any fear.” BMC officials did visit Antara, but her family had to rush from pillar and produce large amounts of paper work and bills before they managed to get their compensation from the BMC. Though they spent over Rs 2 lakh, they only received compensation worth Rs 50,000.

Safe‘tree’ first
>> Plant the right tree depending on the environmental conditions, and plant it with the right amount of depth required for its roots to expand.
>> Don’t overconcretise — don’t lay paver blocks near the roots of the tree, as it hinders the tree from rooting itself deep under the ground.
>> Don’t dump garbage under the tree, or even worse, burn dumped garbage under a tree, as this causes fungi to grow on its roots, weakening its roots and their grip on the soil.
>> While trimming the braches or parts of a tree, keep in mind the balance of the tree. Do not let one side of the tree to bear more weight than the other.

Gardens neglected
In spite of appointing a committee to inspect the trees in gardens after a slew of accidents last year, the BMC has not delivered on its promises. The committee’s report failed to establish how many trees in the city’s gardens were dangerous, and which ones were ailing. Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Gardens) Suhas Karvande said, “Gardens were not assessed in the tree survey done last year. However, this year, we finished pruning the trees before the monsoon.”

Last year, four persons were killed and 13 were injured when trees collapsed and fell on them. The civic body then worked out a policy and overhauled the machinery used to maintain trees. An official from the Tree Authority said, “Trees in gardens are not inspected, and officials still use figures from 2007.” K Yadav, superintendent of Gardens, was unavailable for comment.

Danger zones
Residents of Navin Nagar No 2 Co-operative Housing Society at Santacruz (West) are yet to receive a response from the Tree Authority of H (West) Ward regarding a two-year-old request registered by them for the trimming of an Ashoka tree that is dangerously leaning towards their building.

The weight of the tree has also led to several cracks in the compound wall against which it rests. Also, the roots of the tree are pushing against the underground water tank of the society, creating pressure on its concrete walls. “If the tree is not trimmed soon, its weight might break the concrete wall, endangering the lives of residents. The water tank may also crack from the pressure being exerted by the roots of the tree,” said Gautam Shah, a resident of the society.

The society had lodged the complaint with the BMC on February 10, 2010, but prior to that, staff members from compound of the adjacent St Thomas Marthoma Syrian Church, in which the tree has its roots, had placed a complaint. A staff member from the church office said, “We had made a similar complaint to the BMC on November 1, 2009. But no action has been taken yet.”

Bhupendra Kadam (36), a resident of Shree Ghansham Krupa Co-operative Housing Society in Manish Nagar, Andheri (West) had a close brush with death last Wednesday, when at around 2.30 pm, an Ashoka tree gave way and fell on his Chevrolet Aveo, which he had parked against the wall of Leo Tennis Academy opposite the society.

“I had just returned from work. I parked the car and was heading home when suddenly there was a gush of wind, and the tree, which is rooted in the compound of the tennis academy, fell on my car. The tree had decayed, and a part of it broke off from the point of decay. The windshield has cracked and the roof of my car has been hit too. I’m glad I narrowly escaped death,” said Kadam.

Rubina Shaikh, a neighbouring resident, said, “Members of the Manish Nagar Residents’ Association had filed a complaint with the BMC twice, regarding the urgent need to prune the trees in the area, once last monsoon, and again a month ago. But no action has been taken yet.”

Sujit Mohite, the Junior Tree Officer of K (West) Ward, said “I am aware of the incident. The lane where the accident occurred is in the interiors of Manish Nagar. The spot isn’t even visible from the main road. So we may have missed it. But we didn’t receive any complaints from the society until the day before the mishap.”

The accident has caused worry among residents of the area. “I park my car against the same wall. It could have been my car as well. Even worse, there is a possibility of injury to the residents. If the trees aren’t maintained by the Tree Authority, especially during monsoon, such cases are bound to happen,” said Sanchita Kotian, resident of the locality.

Avinash Kubal, director, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, said, “Trees collapsing is entirely a natural matter, and nobody can be held responsible for it. When strong winds blow, any tree, or some of its branches, may fall. Tree Authority members monitor the trees standing on government land – public roads, for example – while the trees standing in residential or personal property need to be maintained by the members of the society, or the owners if any. It is not possible for the Tree Authorities to monitor every tree that falls in residential properties. In case any tree is on the verge of collapsing, residents should complain and help the government officials take necessary action.”

Anand Pendharkar, ecologist and director, Sprouts Environment Trust, said, “Most of the trees planted around the city are Gulmohar, Copper Pod and Ashoka trees. These trees are only planted for ornamental purpose and are mostly responsible for such accidents. These species are imported for the city’s beautification, while there are several native species that have strong roots and are less likely to collapse. The Tree Authority often allows trees to be trimmed or cut down in an improper manner.”

Inputs: Naveen Nair, Veda Ramaswamy and Rinkita Gurav 

In April, this year the BMC cleared a proposal for 584 trees in the city to be cut for infrastructural work. The civic body completed the pruning of 11,629 trees and cut 340 trees, which were found to be dangerous in the city this year. Of the 11,629 trimmed trees, 4,521 belong to the island city, 4,040 to the western suburbs and 3,068 to the eastern suburbs. Of the 340 dead and dangerous trees that were cut, 41 were in the island city, 263 in western suburbs and 36 in the eastern suburbs. According to the BMC records, there are 19,11,202 trees of 368 species in the city. 3,77,555 are on government land, 10,36,829 on private land, 72,570 are on industrial, 50322 in city parks, 15,810 on the roads and 2,13,216 on other lands. 

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