Mumbai: Dead trees chopped in the night, locals smell a rat

Feb 03, 2015, 11:25 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav and Sadaguru Pandit

While the civic body believes that 20 trees on the New Link Road between JVPD signal and D N Nagar have died a natural death, residents feel they were injected with lethal chemicals

As the BMC has started chopping down dead rain trees all over the city, residents feel that a few of the trees have fallen prey to foul play. Experts also believe that the civic body did not implement adequate measures, resulting in higher number of trees dying prematurely.

A few of the dead rain trees on the New Link Road stretch between JVPD signal and D N Nagar. File pic
A few of the dead rain trees on the New Link Road stretch between JVPD signal and D N Nagar. File pic

For the last four days, a BMC-appointed contractor has been chopping 20 dead trees on the New Link Road stretch between Juhu JVPD signal and D N Nagar. The contractor has permission to sell the wood in the market.

mid-day’s report on the 20 dead trees on December 15, 2014
mid-day’s report on the 20 dead trees on December 15, 2014

While the trees seem to have died a natural death from fungal attack, on paper, at least, residents beg to differ. Most alleged the trees were injected with lethal chemicals, resulting in their untimely deaths.

Speaking to mid-day, a JVPD resident said, “Over a year ago, the trees appeared to be blooming. How can such healthy trees die suddenly? I suspect that the trees were poisoned. BMC authorities must initiate an investigation into the matter.”

Another local, who travels on this stretch almost daily, took to a social networking website to express his anguish. He wrote: “First, the tree barks are shaved and probably some chemical is applied. This causes them (trees) to dry and die. And in the dead of night, the trees are chopped one by one. No one knows whether it is the timber mafia or some builder’s handiwork.

But what we people including myself do each morning is drive by nonchalantly in our cars without even glancing towards this wanton, criminal destruction of the last vestiges of greenery in the concrete jungle that the area is becoming.”

BMC speak
K-West Ward Officer Parag Masurkar said, “We have already received permission from the Garden department and the Tree Authority to cut down dead trees on the New Link Road stretch between Juhu JVPD signal and D N Nagar. The contractor has been given permission to bring down the dead trees, to prevent them from falling on the road and injuring or causing problems to people.”

Tree lover Kshitij Ashtekar said, “Rain trees dying at an alarming rate is a clear indicator that multiple things are going wrong in Mumbai. While the BMC has pinned the blame (for the death of the trees) solely on the mealy bugs, I tried to explain to its officials with the help of data, maps, and facts that this isn’t the case.

Rain trees falling prey to mealy bugs is the secondary symptom. With the help of data collated through surveys and mapping, I can confidently say that heavy concretisation around trees, continuous digging by utility companies, pollution caused by traffic jams are some of the reasons.

Also, pollution has resulted in death of controller insects like the ladybird beetle, parasitic wasp and praying mantis, among others. This has upset the natural balance between the mealy bugs and their predators.”Ashtekar added that those with vested interests are also deliberately killing the trees.

“We have examples wherein trees have been chopped for clearing views for large hoardings, making easy entrances for shopping malls, creating parking spaces for parking lots and builders. Once, I had personally visited Bangur Nagar police station, Malad (West), to file complaints against miscreants for injecting a healthy tree with lethal chemicals. The said tree now stands dead near the Kachpada bus stop.”

Experts claimed that despite ringing the alarm bells well in advance, the BMC failed to implement adequate measures to save these trees. “We have put in a lot of efforts to understand the reasons behind untimely deaths of the trees, and are fighting with the BMC so that it takes necessary action at its earliest.

While a few of our members are clearing concrete around the trees and replenishing the soil with fertilisers, releasing ladybird beetles on mealy bug-infested trees is a way of saving them. However, all these steps must be implemented methodically by the BMC,” Ashtekar said.

‘Something’s not right’
An activist from Borivli, who has been keeping a close watch on the irregularities occurring while pruning trees in his area, said a cumulative effort from all quarters contractors, local politicians and the BMC was needed to save the fast vanishing greenery in the area.

“A lot of trees on Link Road, S V Road, I C and LIC Colonies have been pruned ruthlessly. On numerous occasions, I have asked contractors to show the documents necessary for trimming or cutting a tree. However, they either flee the spot or ignore my queries. Most of these activities are conducted on weekends, when BMC offices are closed and its officials are unreachable,” said activist Dhananjay Junnarkar.

He also pointed out that the BMC has appointed the same contractors for providing the wood to crematoriums. This, he alleged, could likely be the reason for ruthless pruning of trees. “Contractors hired for the pruning job sell the wood for about Rs 7,000 per ton, which is the BMC rate,” Junnarkar said.

Killing them softly?

No of ladybird beetles required to save a rain tree infested with mealy bugs

No of ladybird beetles released per infected tree by the BMC

No of rain trees across Mumbai

Rains trees infested by mealy bugs in the last four months

No of trees BMC was unable to save

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