Is Mumbai turning a new leaf, asks Anil Singh

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After 800 acres of Aarey Milk Colony were declared a classified forest, there seems to be a revival of interest in the greenery of Mumbai; we hear about heritage trees, the promotion of native Indian trees, the creation of dense mini-forests (Miyawaki), mandatory terraced gardens for new skyscrapers, the appointment of a “tree surgeon”, citizens adopting trees uprooted by cyclone, reappearance of laburnum trees on Laburnum Road, a proposed treetop driveway in Malabar Hill and Wonder of Wonders, the arrest of a hoarding business boss for hacking a tree. Is Mumbai turning a new leaf or is it just eye drops?

Will these new ideas and initiatives take root? As it is, with saplings, their survival rate depends on the care and commitment with which they are fed. It is a good idea to declare trees over 50 as heritage trees, given that just two years ago we were hacking and brutally pulling old trees out of town. heart of the city, without forgetting the 2000 trees cut in the night in Aarey.

Native species

It is also a good idea that just about any tree will not be considered a heritage tree; there is an urgent need to replace some exotic non-native species such as peltophorum and gulmohar with the more resistant native Indian laburnum (Amaltas), Palash and Bakul. The rule requiring that 50 cultivated saplings, eight feet tall, be planted and maintained for seven years for each heirloom tree cut is a good start.

The proposed Maharashtra tree authority has pious intentions – tree experts in civic tree authorities, GIS mapping of heritage trees, fines amounting to Rs 1 lakh – and hopefully will do more than simply sanctioning the cutting of trees, which the civic tree authority does. . And finally, it was a good initiative to transfer the implementation of the Maharashtra Tree Protection and Preservation Act 1975 (Urban Areas) from the Department of Urban Development, which stands for builders, to the Department of environment and climate change.

However, the fact remains that the upkeep of gardens and greenery is still a mandatory and not mandatory duty of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). This is what enabled the BMC to reduce its maintenance budget for gardens and green spaces by 50% this year.

Transplant survival rate

In countries that value urban greenery, there are special machines for digging a tree with its main root so that it has a better chance of survival when moving. Here, despite a colossal civic budget, we see neither the machines nor the experts for transplantation. It is not surprising that the survival rate of transplanted trees in Mumbai is less than five percent. Hopefully the Maharashtra Tree Authority will rectify this and also sow the seeds of an urban tree policy. Hopefully the lights on the trees and our health do not reach us in the shade of a fence.

A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore in 2017 found that Mumbai had lost 60% of its vegetation over the past four decades. It is hard to believe that the city was once rich in trees; the first thing the British did on disembarking was take a ride through the trees of Bombay in an open buggy.

Several localities take their name from the trees that grew there. Bhendi Bazaar takes its name from the bhendi tree (Thespesia populnea), Shadow Umarkhadi (a fig tree), Phanaswadi of phanas trees (jackfruit), Vadgadi and Wadala of banyans (vad). Mareselin Almeida and Naresh Chaturvedi write in their book “The Trees of Mumbai”, that Chinchpokli was known for its tamarind trees (chinch).

Arboreal nomenclature

Chinch Bunder was where the tamarind trade was conducted from. The name Cumballa or Kambala Hill was due to the presence of kumbal (Odina wodier). Babulnath takes its name from the acacia groves (babouliers) that have been seen in this region. In the book “Rise of Bombay: A Retrospect”, by MS Edwards during the British period, Mumbai is called “the land of trees”.

Today, due to the preponderance of exotic species, people have even forgotten what Indian flowering trees look like. How many, for example, can identify the Pride-of-India (Lagerstroemia speciosa), the Palash (Butea monosperma), also known as the Flame of the Forest, the evergreen Bakul (Mimusops elengi) with the fragrant flowers or the Karanj (Millettia pinnata) with its small white and purple flowers.

The delicate purple flower of the pride of India (“Tamhan” in Marathi) is the flower of the state of Maharashtra, but how many of these trees do you see in Mantralaya or Vidhan Sabha or even in parks and resorts? chic residential? By the way, the state tree of Maharashtra is Sonneratia alba, or the mangrove apple, ironic when the state is blind to the rampant destruction of mangroves by invaders.

Disconnect with nature

All of this, coupled with our own disconnect with nature, has subconsciously led us to devalue trees and think of them as disposable “jhaad-jhankaad”. We don’t think twice about pruning trees because bird droppings spoil our cars or because we have an irrational fear of bats, which sometimes perch in larger trees. If there is a tree blocking a palisade, it is sure to be chopped or poisoned, as was the case with a whole row of rain trees lining the road to Vashi Station.

In the 90s, a hoarding company in Mumbai even obtained a court order banning the growth of a tree in Prabhadevi. Even city officials are sometimes so callous that a few years ago a tree lover in Navi Mumbai had to get a court order to uproot cobblestones choking the stems of avenue trees.

Eco-warriors in abundance

Fortunately, there is no shortage of eco-warriors and environmentalists. Dr Ashok Kothari of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has established a Bakul Avenue at SNDT Women’s University in Santacruz. Sandeep Athalye and his family have planted 5,500 saplings in Aarey over 15 years. Dr Anahita Pandole is waging a fierce fight against illegal tree piracy. Sanjiv Valsan and his friends from the “Ped Lagao Ped Bachao” movement save uprooted trees.

Young Nailless Tree removed 5,700 nails from Dadar trees in just one year. Dharmesh Barai and his group of volunteers in Navi Mumbai collect plastic waste and rags from mangroves and hiking trails every weekend. There are citizen groups such as the Bandra Salvage Zone Volunteer Organization (BRAVO), led by Vidya Vaidya, which roots for native trees and recycles household waste into compost. Then there are organizations like Vanashakti, who lobbied the National Green Tribunal and got the BMC to deconcretize all tree bases.

But there is a lot of catching up to do. According to the BMC itself, the city has one tree for every four people, while the ideal is eight trees per person. If the tiger Shiv Sena is to survive in Mumbai, the group had better create a habitat for it.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. He appreciates comments on [email protected]

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Posted on: Saturday Aug 28, 2021, 2:30 a.m. IST


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