Rare trees face axe in road-widening project

Mar 09, 2014, 07:30 IST | Chetna Yerunkar and Yashodhara Ghosh

The century-old twin baobabs next to the ACP’s office in Malad may be felled to widen Marve Road. The species arrived in India with the Portuguese 400 years ago

Their forefathers came to Mumbai over 400 years ago and given a chance, these trees that grow up to 98 feet, can live for several hundred years. And yet, two majestic baobabs in Malad, some of the last surviving of these rare trees, now face the axe, with the civic authorities ready to sacrifice them to build a wider road.

Nikhil Purov, who has been mapping baobabs on Google Earth, learnt about the trees’ impending axing

When road-widening plans for Marve Road in Malad were announced by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in 2012, the civic body sent evacuation notices to the Malvani Church, few local shops, and the  office of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) of Malwani area. The ACP’s office is flanked by two baobab trees.

The church, with its 14,000 parishioners, is up in arms against the project. But the police office, being government premises, is in the process of being evacuated for the BMC. And with it, the life of the trees are numbered.

The discovery of the impending axing of the trees, was made by local resident Nikhil Purov who is part of a group of enthusiasts called ‘Baobabs of Mumbai’. They who have been locating baobabs and mapping them on Google Earth. “I was in Malad, taking pictures of the baobabs when I spotted these twin baobabs outside the police office in the Malvani area. I asked the constables whether I could take a photo. They agreed but added that the trees will be axed, as part of a road-widening process.”

A cop at the police station said, “We have received a notice asking us to vacate the premises partially for road widening. As the trees are close to our office, they will be chopped off.”

Trees with a rich legacy
When the Portuguese colonised parts of India, they brought the baobab trees with them from Africa and planted them near important landmarks, like churches.

Purov said, “The Portuguese set up base at Bassein and started expanding their sway from Goa  to Daman. Along this coastline whereever they had checkposts, they planted baobabs. They were chosen because they live long. It will be a pity if these trees are cut down.”

Stanley Fernandez, an activist who has been resisting the road-widening project, said, “Currently, there is a status quo on this project as we are trying to meet the Chief Minister to save our church, which the BMC wants for road widening.”

Official speak
When contacted, a ward officer of the BMC Devendrakumar Jain, told this newspaper, “There are plans for widening the road for the past two years and notices have been issued to those who would have to vacate their premises. The trees, which would be chopped for the project, would be replanted. Even the trees that are outside the police station would be replanted in some other area.”

Baobabs in Mumbai

Several baobabs in Mumbai are as old as the city itself, having survived plague, natural disaster and the British regime. A 400-year-old baobab stands opposite the Bhabha Hospital in Bandra and another at the entrance of the Byculla Zoo. There’s one outside the Afghan Church in Colaba, one on SV Road near Poddar School in Santacruz, and a few at Seepz in Andheri. Rishi Agarwal, a noted environmental activist, said, “Replanting of trees is a completely misguided activity and an utter waste of public money. The BMC should use that money to plant more trees instead.”

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