Mumbai vs Metro-3: The city is losing the fight to keep its greenery

Jul 15, 2017, 15:29 IST | Tasneem Balapurwala

As the Metro 3 construction, and along with it, rampant tree-axing picks pace, mid-day takes a deep dive into what it really means for Mumbai's green lungs

Imaging/Ravi Jadhav
Imaging/Ravi Jadhav

Issues plaguing the Metro 3 construction
Apart from the controversy over the Aarey Car Depot in the area, which requires the chopping of around 3,000 trees, there is the issue of transplanting trees safely. According to green activists, the MMRC had presented a document in court claiming that to take proper care, they will appoint an arborist from Singapore. However, an RTI query revealed that MMRC had already started tree plantation in the expert's absence.

Tree cutting for Metro 3 near Churchgate. File pic
Tree cutting for Metro 3 near Churchgate. File pic

The trouble with NGT and HC
In April 2015, green activists had approached the National Green Tribunal demanding that no tree cutting or further development in Aarey be permitted, as it will have a negative impact on the biodiversity of the area. Then earlier this year, citizens also filed a PIL in the Bombay HC over the cutting of trees along the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro alignment. In May, however, the HC vacated the stay, saying, "If a harsh stance as sought by the petitioners is taken, then it would be impossible to achieve development."

A centuries-old tree at Siddhivinayak was axed
A centuries-old tree at Siddhivinayak was axed

The loss of heritage
In mid-May, tree-cutting commenced aggressively in the old south Mumbai areas of Colaba, Fort, Churchgate and Hutatma Chowk, the few of the remaining green areas of Mumbai, that also house heritage trees. For the last few weeks, men with motorised hacksaws have been taking down regal gulmohar and banyan trees, including the landmark centuries-old banyan tree next to Siddhivinayak Temple.

The plan for transplantation
For the transplantation of the trees affected due to the Dahisar East-Andheri East and Dahisar East to DN Nagar Metro line, some trees have been planted at Aarey Milk Colony and an agency has reportedly been appointed to look after the trees that have been transplanted. A water tank, too, has been kept near the transplanted trees for the summer. Additionally, in May, the MMRC, along with an SGNP team, visited a 25-hectare degraded forest patch close to the Film City in Borivli that they claim can be used for the re-plantation of trees removed for Metro 3.

Lessons from Delhi Metro
Reports suggested that for the construction of Delhi Metro, as many as 48,200 trees were cut by the DMRC. It came to light when the Delhi HC asked authorities to present detailed affidavits after allegations that one lakh trees had been cut without replanting to make up for the loss. The order gained significance because it was believed that the "magnitude" of chopping led to higher pollution level in the capital.

Inputs by Ranjeet Jadhav

Can transplantation work?

Stalin D, environmentalist, NGO Vanashakti
'Transplantation is a very complex and delicate operation, like open-heart surgery. It requires at least three months of preparation and at least a year of post-transplantation care. MMRC has zero expertise and their so-called experts from Singapore are invisible. The survival chances of transplanted trees will be less than 20 per cent.'

Zoru Bhathena, activist
'If MMRC continues to take proper care of the transplanted trees, we are hopeful that a majority of the trees will survive, but only time will tell if it was done right. After we pointed out to the High Court committee that they were transplanting the trees badly, they have started taking much better care now.'

No. of trees saved in Aarey, as per revised depot plan

No. of trees to be affected in Aarey

No. of trees to be planted for every tree that is uprooted

Land to be used to transplant the trees

Rs 21 lakh
Monthly salary claimed to be paid to arborists from Singapore

No. of trees to be axed for all 4 Metro lines combined

No. of trees to be cut for Metro 3

No. of trees to be cut in south Mumbai for Metro 3

No. of heritage trees to be cut for Metro 3

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