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BUTCHERING THE ENVIRONMENT!

Friday, May 23, 2014
By Gayatri Sahasrabuddhe and Santia Dudi

The issue of illegal trimming and cutting of trees came into public glare again last week when Bandra's Nectar CHS became infamous because of the deaths and displacement of hundreds of birds. It now emerges that tree cutting is rampant all over the city. In this environmentally sensitive era, when challenges like global warming and green house effect are a threat to the very existence of our green planet, every tree matters, and this is taught even in primary schools. Every single tree helps maintain the ecological balance, and citizens should be concerned about the widespread hacking whether illegal or even legal.

The city's green cover has been rapidly vanishing in the last few years, giving concerned citizens sleepless nights. The various authorities that are supposed to maintain our tree cover are the Tree Authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the State Environment department. The BMC recently embarked on a radical experiment to count trees via satellite, to ascertain their actual numbers in the city and suburbs.

The last decade has seen the highest number of trees being chopped down legally or illegally. However, during this period, very few trees were planted, and consequently the green cover has been disappearing.

Why are trees cut:
The population influx in a city that already has 1.40 crore living souls, sees the need for housing as a formidable industry, and hitherto forested spaces are being cleared to house the new population. Greedy builders and developers therefore will think nothing of murdering a healthy tree with or without permission, to build their mega townships.

If that is not bad, state and Central government authorities too are cutting trees in their respective premises to make new offices or to build new facilities, even parking lots.

While  environmentalists are claiming that illegal tree cutting is rampant, the Joint Municipal Commissioner S.S Shinde, when asked, said, "There is no illegal tree cutting going on in the city. BMC takes strict action against such acts and lodges FIR."

However, environmentalists have a different story to tell. They speak of corruption rackets whereby permissions can be got or bought, and no action being taken against private citizens or contractors and builders where trees are brought down or trimmed illegally. Stalin D, Director – Projects, Vanashakti, recently wrote to the BMC regarding the reckless pruning of healthy young branches of trees in the city. He said, “Illegal tree cutting and trimming is rampant across the city and there are many cases of the same. The BMC itself is cutting and pruning trees.”

He also pointed out that people are not sensitive to other life forms and need to be protective towards the environment, whether it is birds or trees.

Stalin wrote to the BMC stating that only branches which are dry and posing a threat to humans or vehicles should be cut under the supervision of experts.

Mohammed Dilawar of Nature Forever Society said, “Illegal tree cutting and trimming is rampant across the country. BMC has vested interest when it comes to cutting of trees for property or road widening, etc. The BMC and government don't follow proper guidelines.”

In the first three weeks of May itself, the BMC received requests from citizens, widely publicised in newspaper ads, seeking permission to cut as many as 173 trees in localities like Juhu Tara Road, Chembur, Andheri and Kurla. If not contested by alert citizens, the trees are slated to be cut within a span of seven days from the date of the advertisement apppearing in the press.

There are instances when action is warranted:

If a tree in your locality is dead, diseased, windfallen, poses danger to life or property, and/or obstructs traffic, you can seek to get it cut by following the legal procedure.

There are two categories:
1) cutting/removal of tree
2) trimming of tree (trimming includes cutting of branches)
One has to give an application to the Tree Authority Department to seek permission for cutting a tree. The application requires description of tree, location, site plans and reasons for cutting. The form available at the Garden Department office should be filled. Other documents include ownership of land or property, approved building plan for construction (if any), photographs of tree, hard copy of application form if applied online and serial number of tree. Guideleines are contained in The Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act , 1975.

Within 30 days of the receipt of application, the Tree Officer will inspect the site and report back to the Tree Authority. A notice will be fixed on the tree itself. The Tree Officer will issue a public notice in leading newspapers.

After 60 days, the Tree Authority will give or refuse premission to cut/remove the tree. Once the permission is granted, the tree can be felled only after 15 days.

Meanwhile if somebody objects to the permission, the Tree Authority will give a hearing to the person who raised the objection. Within 15 days of the hearing, the Tree Authority will give it's decision.

If the Tree Authority doesn't reply to the application within 60 days, the application is deemed as granted. The cutting down/ trimming of trees is done by trained and experienced BMC contractors.

Conditions:
Once the permission is granted, the applicant has to plant an equal number of trees of the same or the other suitable species, which have to be planted in the same or adjoining locality within 30 days of the felling exercise.

Adoption
Citizens can also adopt trees instead of planting them. But the adopted trees should be less than one year old. Those who have sought permission to cut trees can also follow this route and adopt an equal number of trees that they wanted cut. The applicant will be responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the adopted trees for the time period given by the Tree Authority.

While trees are destroyed in the process, birds nesting in them are affected too. In the case of the Nectar CHS incident, many eggs and hatchlings of water birds like Egrets and Herons were killed. Many may not be aware but water birds play an essential role in Mumbai's coastal ecosystem, which includes mangroves, mudflats and creeks, etc that act as a barrier between the sea and land, thereby protecting us. The destruction of mangroves has proved to be detrimental, and it is essential that we protect every aspect of the environment whether it's trees or birds as each plays its own role in the overall ecosystem.

Update on Bandra hatchlings:
The hatchlings that were saved by Youth Organisation in Defence of Animals (YODA) last week, were put under private foster care under the guidance of an avian expert. Pooja Sakpal of YODA who has been fostering the hatchlings, said, “The hatchlings will be released in three batches. One batch in a month, the second batch after two and a half months and one batch might be released next weekend after a vet checkup and permission from the Forest Department.”
Four hatchlings died and 44 are under the care of YODA while the others are under the care of other private citizens and organisations. Sakpal added, “An FIR has been filed and we are waiting for the cops to take action.”

 

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