Sunday, February 26, 2017

BMC permits axing of 25K trees, but has no transplantation records

Hindustan Times‎‎‎‎‎: Mumbai: Sunday, February 26, 2017.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority okayed the cutting of 25,018 trees in the city between 2010 and 2016, revealed a reply to a Right To Information (RTI) application. However, municipal officials had no records to show whether the lost trees were replaced by fresh plantations or if they were transplanted.
An RTI filed by city-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Watchdog Foundation in January, sought to know the number of proposals cleared by the tree authority. The reply identified 1,927 proposals received and cleared by the department to cut and transplant trees between January 1, 2010 and November 16, 2016 under the provisions of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975.
“The department permitted tree felling for projects such as road widening, construction of buildings, hospitals and various infrastructure projects across the city’s 24 wards. All the proposals were carefully discussed during meetings and only then finalised,” said Medha Gogate, assistant superintendent of gardens, tree authority.
Gogate said records detailing transplantation or replantation of these trees were unavailable as they were still being compiled. “After we sanction the felling of trees, each ward is asked to submit a list of trees that have been planted or transplanted for various projects within their ward. Some of the wards have submitted a report while others are still awaited,” she said. “We do not have the consolidated report yet.”
According to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, two new saplings have to be planted within 30 days of a tree being felled, or the time given by the tree officer. However, the original tree can also be transplanted. Additionally, a deposit of at least Rs4,000 has to be made for each tree that is being felled. The amount is refunded within two years if the new saplings are seen to be growing satisfactorily. There is no extra penalty if the original tree does not survive transplantation.
Activists said there needs to be a dedicated panel to overlook compensatory afforestation for the trees that were hacked. “It is shocking that they the authority permitted the hacking of 25,000-plus trees, but there are no checks or balances on the number of trees planted in their place. Officials from the state government or the Union environment ministry need to monitor the situation and ensure that laws stipulated under the tree act be followed by the municipal corporation,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.
He added that he will submit another RTI to procure information about tree-cutting projects between 2010 and 2016.
According to the BMC’s environment status report (ESR) 2015-16, the city currently has 29,89,654 trees as compared to 24,11,508 trees in the 2014-15 ESR report. The increase was attributed to the census being carried out at Aarey Colony, Goregaon.