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The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) gardens department has sparked an outrage for its report blaming a “windstorm” for the death of a former Doordarshan anchor. A tree had fallen on Kanchan Nath on July 20, killing her. Calling it a natural disaster, the gardens department has given a clean chit to its officials who had inspected the tree a few month before the incident. Civic activists, and even members of the BMC tree authority and corporators, have slammed the civic body for its report and called it a “cover up”. On the morning of July 20, Nath (58) was walking home to Prawasi housing society in Chembur after a yoga session, when a coconut tree came crashing down on her. The tree had fallen right on her head. The 58-year-old died two days later at Sushrut Hospital.
A CCTV camera in the area caught the entire incident, and the video quickly went viral, sparking an outrage against the BMC and officials of the gardens department. The tree was in the compound of a local resident, Dinkar Pol, who had in February requested the BMC to cut down the tree citing it was too heavy and that it might fall. He had warned the civic body repeatedly that the tree had grown too large and had become unsafe. The report added that after receiving the complaint, officials from the gardens department visited the site and noted that the tree had a 4-metre circumference and was about 40 metre tall, and its growth was natural. They further noted that there was no pest problem or disease in the tree, and hence, they deemed the tree safe.
“The officials had then mentioned that the tree will not fall for at least the next ten years. However, it broke mid-trunk and led to the tragic death of the lady. Had they done the inspection well and taken appropriate action, the lady would have been alive,” said Manan Raina, a local resident. After the inspection, the officials had decided that the tree was weighed down by its branches and coconuts, and so they had given permission to trim some of it. Pol went back to the BMC after 10 days, once again requesting the BMC to send someone to trim additional branches and remove the coconuts. Pol had also paid trimming charges of Rs 1,380. The same day, a contractor visited Pol’s property and pruned some branches and removed the coconuts.
The BMC report states that from that day till the day of the accident, no other complaints were received regarding the tree. On this basis, the department has given a clean chit to its officials. When contacted, Jitendra Pardeshi, superintendent of gardens, BMC, said, “After the incident, we had asked a team of officials to investigate and study the entire episode. The officials who had inspected the tree had followed all the rules and taken necessary action at that time. No complaint was received after that day. Hence this is not a case of negligence.” The report states: “The incident had taken place at 8 am on July 20. The wind speed at the time was high, and the tree collapsed due to that. It’s a natural disaster.” The report further stated that there was no negligence on the part of the gardens department officials.
Senior corporator and member of the tree authority committee, Abhijit Samant, said this clearly seems to be a cover up. “If the tree fell due to windstorm, then it is clear that it was weak though the officials had declared it healthy a few months ago. What kind of inspection was conducted? How can the department give a clean chit to these officials? The wind was not an abnormal one that would break a healthy tree. That would have happened only during a Tsunami-like situation. I will seek an explanation on this,” said Samant. Samant has raised questions over the department’s manner of inspecting trees. He said the department must adopt a systematic audit or a proper way to inspect trees like in case of infrastructures.