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Another tree leaves, as a hoarding arrives

Updated on: 20 May,2024 07:12 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dr Ashok Kothari |

In the wake of the illegal hoarding tragedy, trees too have perished to make way for more billboard visibility

Another tree leaves, as a hoarding arrives

A tree allegedly poisoned in Powai to enable a better view of the hoarding behind it. PIC/RAJESH GUPTA

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Another tree leaves, as a hoarding arrives

The illegal hoarding which crashed down on a petrol pump in Ghatkopar during a sudden dust storm in the city, and claimed several lives besides leaving many injured has put the spotlight on billboards in Mumbai.

While the focus as it should be, is on the lives lost, those injured, it is important to remember that hoarding ‘visibility’ has resulted in so many others perishing through the years. These ‘others’ are trees that are hacked or poisoned over days so that they die and are conveniently removed so that hoardings which are obscured by these green benevolent sentinels of our city, can be better seen.

This does not happen in one particular area but has happened across the city. One way is brazen, chopping a tree with impunity, removing branches or the entire tree, accompanied by the attitude, let us see who stops us. The other more sinister method is to bore holes usually in the trunk at the base of the tree and inject it with chemicals. Though it may sound simple, it is quite an organised, slick operation using gangs. Trees die quickly, maybe in five days after that and are removed. Usually, this poisoning takes place at night. It is next to impossible to locate the culprits and solve this ‘murder mys-tree’ as it is done under cover of darkness. Earlier, we did not have CCTV. With surveillance, things have improved but to a small extent. Sometimes footage is grainy and obtaining this is also difficult, given that most of these trees are on pavements in public spaces.

There are also instances when some kind of tree trimming has taken place and people, up to no good, have trimmed or cut much more of the tree than necessary. The extra wood is whisked away and given to crematoriums. We do not have electric crematoriums everywhere, so wood is needed by them. Earlier, this wood was got from the forests around Mumbai. Now, they take it from trees in the city. 

Remember that it is not just billboard visibility. Some trees are actually made into ‘billboards’ themselves. Even though these may be small, advertisers or some commercial entities find tree trunks as free, visible platforms or bases to advertise on. They hammer nails into these trees and pin some kind of notice for a product or coaching classes, or something else. This may not be hacking the tree but it is extremely harmful. All you have to think about is how you would feel if somebody hammered a nail into you, bring in the empathy factor and you will realise the pain the tree endures.

In the end, this focus on billboards should be a holistic one, extending to spotlight and action on chopping down trees by commercial interests. This too, must be on the radar so that we bring a stop to such murders of our precious citizens too as trees are just that, the beating heart of our metropolis. They ask for so little, just water to live and grow and give so much shade to all, no class or caste exempt. They are truly gentle, non-discriminatory and noble. It may be trite to say that citizens should be vigilant, yet, citizens are waking up. Recently, a group actually complained about the chopping of a Baobab tree in Santacruz. The complaint has been filed at a police station. So, though it is a hard and at times, frustrating road ahead, participation in the green preservation process by larger numbers, more informed allies of trees and allies that are inclined to take action is needed. We all should say: shift the billboard, find a new address for it, why should the tree lose its life? Commerce cannot trample over climate balance. 

The columnist is former president, Friends of Trees

As told to Hemal Ashar

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