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Monday, May 30, 2011

Only 19 L trees in city makes greens see red

Mumbai: If the health of a city can be measured by comparing its tree cover with its population then Mumbai needs an urgent green transplant. The city's 1.3 crore inhabitants have a green cover of just 19.12 lakh trees. In effect, there is just one tree breathing out oxygen for every six persons.

    A city like New York, which is often likened to Mumbai for its similar heterogeneous characteristics, has an average of five trees per person and has managed to maintain its green lungs in spite of the fact that it has far more highrises than Mumbai. 
    The decrease in green cover is not restricted to Mumbai alone. Data from the state forest department shows that 1.9 lakh trees were cut in a two-year period (between 2007 and 2009) across Maharashtra. The state has just 20.13% of for
est area as against the Centre's stipulated 33%. World Environment Day, which is observed on June 5, focuses on the depletion of forest cover across the world. 
    "Study after study has shown that Mumbai's air has a high content of 
greenhouse gases compared to other cities. The health of the average Mumbaikar has gone from bad to worse. Incidents of heart ailments and respiratory tract illnesses are on the rise,'' said Dr Nilesh Baxi, a former member of the Tree Authority. He said the civic administration does not have a far-sighted policy for afforestation, planting trees and making up for the denuded green cover. "They do not keep a record of the state of trees that have been implanted and uprooted for developmental work. The result is our highways and roads look barren and a majority of the trees that have been planted here have died,'' he said. Suburbs have better shade of green 
Tree-Human Ratio Higher In Northern Parts Of City, 5,000 Trees Chopped Every Month 

    Civic data shows that people living in places like Dongri, Girgaum, Kurla or Dadar are likely to be breathing less cleaner air than people staying in the northern suburbs of Borivli, Bhandup, Mulund and Bandra. This is because there is a better human-totree ratio in the northern parts of the city. 
    In areas like Dongri, Marine Lines and Dadar, there are 10-50 times more people than trees. 
    Residents who have been fighting to save trees in their neighbhourhood say that the police refuse to file an FIR even after they complain about the cutting of trees. "Three 15-year-old huge rain trees were cut on the Link Road overnight and it is hard to believe that the police did 

not come to know about it. Even after we filed a complaint with the civic authorities the culprits were not caught. 'Stealing' a tree in Mumbai is as easy as pickpocketing. People do not realize that by cutting a tree you are destroying your own health,'' said Harish Pandey, member of New Link Road Resident Forum. 
    In the past five years the municipal corporation has planted around 40,000 trees of which, official data claims, roughly 38,000 survived. 
    But given the lack of stringent action against developers and illegal hackers of trees, nearly 3,000-5,000 trees face the axe every month. "A new BMC rule makes it mandatory for developers to plant, for each tree they hack, another tree in 
civic open spaces. This is just an overlap of work since builders are supposed to develop these open spaces as part of another scheme," said tree committee member Niranjan Shetty. "There is no supervision of developers' responsibility," he added. 
    Besides, the survival rate of new trees still remains terribly low and plantation at many places is still carried out during monsoon. 
    "We have been working on these aspects and can only hope things change for the better," Shetty said. 
    Last year, the BMC planted 10,850 trees compared to 5,935 trees in the previous year, of which 5,668 survived. 
    The maximum number of trees was planted in 2005-06: 10,161. However, the rate of survival happened to be the lowest that year. 
    Data from the forest department shows the state has lost Rs 653 .4 lakh due to illegal forest cutting in the last two years. 
    "The problem of illegal tree cutting is rampant because the department still has not filled up hundreds of posts in various forest circles across the state,'' said D Stalin project director of Vanashakti. 
    He said that the guards are not trained or neither given weapons to tackle the problem of illegal wood cutting mafia especially in Naxal infested areas,'' he said. A senior police official from Gadchiroli division said that teak trees are being cut and smuggled to the bordering states. "We are unable to stop it as the Naxalites have cut off access and even fortified these areas. Lack of manpower is another deterrent,'' the official said. 
    Concurs Sumaira Abdulali, Awaaz foundation: "The civic authority should utiltise the tree cess collected properly and plant more trees. It is important that native and fruit bearing tress are planted instead of planting trees that are foreign to the Indian soil.''


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