In the first six months of the year, the city, on an average, has lost around two trees daily to development projects, but developers have failed to replace them even as the norm is to plant twice the number of trees cut.
Between January and June, the tree authority had given permission to cut around 720 trees and transplant around 2,096 trees in the city, read a report issued by the gardens department. Officials have found that 281 trees were cut in the city for projects in the same period, however, only 244 were re-planted. The report was submitted to the tree authority recently.
According to the gardens department report issued in February, 237 trees were cut after getting approval from the tree authority between June and December, 2013. Of these, the report said, only 88 were re-planted.
The civic body’s norms specify that for every tree cut, double the number should be planted and trees to be transplanted should be shifted within the same area or at a suitable location.
The report also states that 519 trees were transplanted, of which 53 were found to be dead after transplantation. Western suburbs faired the worst in terms of the survival rate of transplanted trees. At Malad’s Valnai village, all four trees transplanted died, and at MHADA Colony in Sidharth Nagar, Goregaon West, of the 87 trees transplanted for a building project, 12 were dead.
Gardens department officials said although the number of trees replaced was less as per the report, the department did ensure that trees were replaced. “We take stringent action like forfeit deposits and withhold NOCs when the project proponents seek occupation certificates. In some cases, it is better for the health of trees that they are not replaced or transplanted in the area where construction work is on. But after the building is ready, we ensure the trees are re-planted,” said Joint Municipal Commissioner S S Shinde, who is in-charge of the gardens department.
Shinde admitted that although the survival rate of transplanted trees was dismal, the gardens department encouraged project proponents to transplant a tree rather than cut it entirely. “While a majority of transplanted trees survive, some do not. We are trying to improve the situation by repeatedly checking the health of trees,” he added.
Meanwhile, at the tree authority meeting held on Friday, members raised a point of order against an alleged attempt by the BMC administration to undermine its authority.
Once the tree authority approves a proposal to cut trees, the individual housing society or developer has to submit an affidavit enlisting the time period within which the tree will be cut and replaced or transplanted. According to a new clause in the proposal before the tree authority on Friday, the administration had sought approval from the tree authority to let the assistant superintendent of garden of each zone to permit changes in the affidavits at a later stage, without bringing it before the authority again.
Tree authority members raised objections claiming that the move was against the provisions of the Maharashtra Urban Areas Protection and Preservation of Tree Act, 1975. “With this clause, the administration is trying to re-delegate the powers of the tree authority to a subordinate officer. This undermines our authority. The powers of the tree authority has been specified in the Act and cannot be re-delegated by us. Making such a proposal is a violation of the provisions of the Act,” said Niranjan Shetty, a tree authority member.
According to the members, Additional Municipal Commissioner Rajiv Jalota sent the clause back to the legal department to verify it in accordance with the Tree Act. Jalota could not be reached for his comments.
The administration had agreed to appoint an expert committee to inspect the diseased and dying trees in the city, members said. “At present, some of the diseased trees are treated by applying lime and red oxide on its bark to prevent insect attacks,” said Hanumant Raje, a tree authority member. “Newer and more effective methods have to be employed and the trees need to be checked to identify the cause of diseases. This can be done only by expert horticulturalists. Hence, a committee should be formed at the earliest,” he added.