Mumbai: Why Malabar Hill residents are angry with the BMC
Mumbai's Millionaire's Row Malabar Hill loses beautiful banyan trees; residents demand action and accountability
The hacked trees
It has been one month since Malabar Hill resident Capt. Pramod Salvi shot off an email to the BMC, asking about why two beautiful, life-giving banyan trees just opposite his building on Dungarsi Road were hacked leaving behind stumps, but has yet to receive an answer. Salvi says, pointing out to a piece of land now sporting tree stumps diagonally opposite the Poornanand building where he lives on the top floor, "People ask me why I want to know about these trees that are gone now. They tell me that the deed is done, why pursue the matter. I tell them, if a murder happens will you say, the deed has been done, why investigate it at all? Killing these trees is the same as murder."
The Salvis, the Capt and his wife, Kranti Salvi, both accomplished marathoners, their trophy cabinet with the silverware is attest to this, said the banyan trees were a vital part of their lives. "They may have been as old as 60 years," says Kranti, looking out wistfully from her window. "We used to do uphill runs (their building is next to an incline) and those trees were our lungs, giving oxygen, shade and succour."
Capt Salvi's email dated January 9, saying, "On Friday January 5, a group of men claiming to be working under orders from the 'D' ward officer arrived at Dungarsi road. They cut two large Banyan trees. We will be highly obliged if you could please investigate and take necessary action against those involved in totally destroying healthy, strong and beautiful Banyan trees on Dungarsi Road, Malabar hill. This cutting of trees has not only permanently damaged the ecology and nature of the locality, but has also made hundreds of birds orphaned forever."
Before the trees were cut
Says Salvi, "We (my wife and I) were not in town that day but a few locals did ask the men why they were cutting these trees. They showed some papers claiming to have permission, as the trees were dangerous they claimed. We do not think there was any danger." Mita Sukhthankar, resident at Dungarsi Road said, "I was passing by when I saw these trees being cut. I did ask the men if they had permission to cut the tree, they said the trees posed a danger to people, especially schoolchildren in the area (the Kavale Math school is in the area) and they needed to cut them. I have no clue how laypersons can verify all these permissions."
Capt Pramod Salvi at his home. Pics/Ashish Raje
Kranti says, "This is one of the few spots in Mumbai, where we hear parrots. These trees were their home, their source of food. Those who have cut these trees have left these sweet talking birds bereft of shelter." Capt. Salvi says grimly, "If we, educated residents do not speak up, then who will do so? All we want to know is why these trees have been cut. As you can see there is some construction supposed to happen just adjacent to the trees which were cut."
Local buzz says a residential building is coming up there. Activist Sanjay Shirke, said, "I am sure these trees were not dangerous. We have seen them since five decades and more. There is more to this than meets the eye. We cannot let trees vanish all through Dungarsi road. Some officials have stated that the wall behind these trees was dangerous and would fall owing to the weight of the trees, I think this is just a pretext to cut these trees."
'D' Ward speak
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta said, "The email complaint may have gone directly to the 'D' ward department. That is how the trail mails work." 'D' ward Asst. Superintendent Garden Dept, R Hendre did say the, "trees were leaning against a wall," after which he refused to elaborate stating that, "I will talk to you tomorrow, I am commuting and currently in Pune." An official said the trees were dangerous and leaning against a wall.
'Just like a murder'
"If you see a tree being cut, all you have to do is call the police on telephone No. 100," says tree activist Zoru Bhathena. "The police will be able to verify whether permissions have been taken for cutting the tree." He added, "If you see a murder what do you do? Call the cops. Cutting is the murder of a tree, you must call the police. You can also tweet to the Mumbai police and give the location where the tree is being cut."