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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.''

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Half of Bandra-Santa Cruz stretch under CCTV watch

Police Hope Network Will Check Crime

Mumbai: A network of close circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in parts of suburbs promises to cover 3.6 lakh households, probably making the per person density of the new system highest in the city. The security system is a far cry from a web of CCTVs in London, which has 1.85 million cameras and a density of one camera each for 32 people — the highest in the world. 
    By installing 61 cameras across the western side of Khar, Bandra and Santa Cruz, the police have achieved a density of roughly one camera per 20,000 residents. Last year, 237 incidents of chain snatching and 617 vehicle theft cases were reported in 
Zone 9, under whose jurisdiction these three police stations fall. 
    Today, half the zone is under electronic surveillance. Cameras have been installed on almost all connecting roads in the locality, covering every entry and exit point. 
    Congress Member of Parliament Priya Dutt had sanctioned money for the project 
from the MP fund. The police had prepared a proposal to install cameras last year and Dutt had arranged Rs 25 lakh for the project. 
    Zonal deputy commissioner of police K M M Prasanna said, "This will help us prevent and detect crime. We have covered all the entry and exit points in the area and the cameras will be monitored from the respective police stations, round the clock." 

    "It will help us control street crime," said an officer. 
    Earlier, a local residents' association had installed limited CCTVs in their neighbourhood to help the police identify criminals. The police were offered free maintenance of the cameras for three years. The officials said that they had installed the cameras in such a way that a vehicle's number plate and the persons seated inside can be easily seen. 
    The cable network is exclusively for the police and an electric pole is used for cable balance. 
    The police had laid overhead fibre cables on the approximately 25-kilometre stretch covering all the in-and-out roads. 
    Prasanna said that in several places where there are no cameras, the cable network comes in handy. This ensures that at any point in time, the police can bring the entire area under electronic surveillance by connecting the cameras to the existing cable points. "It will prove to be of great help during the Bandra Fair and Ganesh visarjan," said Prasanna.

BIG BROTHERS WATCHING: Cops monitor CCTV footage at Bandra police station. (Left) CCTV camera installed on an electric pole at S V Road, Bandra

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gutter farm veggies adding slow poison to your platter

Grown Near Rly Tracks, They Contain Toxic Heavy Metals

Vijay Singh & Pratibha Masand TNN 

Mumbai: The next time you dig into that bowl of palak paneer, think of where the spinach comes from. The fact that many of the vegetables consumed by citizens are grown in 'gutter farms' near railway tracks—with sewage water being used for irrigation—may render your favourite dishes rather unpalatable. Despite a complaint being lodged with the Indian Railways, the dangerous trend of gutter farming is flourishing near the tracks. 
    Panvel resident Vishnu Gavali of the Iron Eagle V Group had conducted a chemical analysis of various vegetables grown using sewage water near railway tracks. The results showed an alarming presence of heavy metals like lead, copper, cobalt, chromium and in one instance, arsenic. "We had submitted the chemical analysis reports of vegetables taken from two farms near railway tracks in Navi Mumbai two years ago. However, gutter farms on railway land have only increased," said Gavali, who has urged the railway authorities to curb this practice immediately. 
    "If ignored, the issue will be akin to mass food poisoning as vegetables from gutter farms are sold in open markets in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane," Gavali added. 
    The railway officials, though, have a reply. V M Malegaonkar, chief public relations officer of Central Railway, said, "We hand over the land for cultivation to prevent encroachment. However, we do not keep a check on quality or 
the kind of water being used for cultivation. Our primary goal is to ensure that these vacant pieces of land belonging to railway are not encroached upon." 
    "Long term consumption of vegetables grown on sewage water can lead to early onset of Parkinson's disease, neuron degeneration, hearing and vision impairment and gastro-intestinal infections," said Dr Pradeep Mahajan, an Airoli-based expert in occupational diseases and trauma surgery. 
    Gutter farms along the tracks can be seen not only on the Harbour Line, but also along the main Western and Cen
tral railway stations. The diesel-run water pumps sourcing the filthy, putrid drain water can also be easily spotted. 
    According to the report submitted to the railways in 2009, the arsenic concentration in a tested radish was 0.51 parts per million (ppm). The maximum permissible limit of this metal is 0.43 ppm as per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. The radish also had 112 ppm of zinc, as against the standard of 50 ppm. 
    Some of the other leafy vegetables tested contained high density of chromium, cobalt, zinc, copper and other heavy metals. 

Times View 
P ossible encroachment of railway land is a far less serious hazard than putting the health of people at risk. Experts are unanimous that long-term consumption of these chemical elements can lead to serious disorders. It is the duty of Indian Railways to ensure that railway land is not to put to any use that may harm Mumbaikars. Perhaps, growing flowers instead of vegetables could be a better solution to the encroachment problem; it will also make the landscape along railway tracks look better. 

• Lead: 
May cause anaemia; blood, gastrointestinal and neuro-muscular disorders 

• Arsenic: 
Can lead to kidney and liver disorders and even paralysis 

• Copper: 
Can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and involuntary muscle movement 

• Mercury: 
Can lead to involuntary muscle movement and tremors

RED ALERT: Sewage water is used to rrigate gutter farms near railway tracks

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Special cop stations to check illegal structures

Units To Be Ready In A Year, BMC To Bear Cost

Mumbai: The city, home to a large number of illegal constructions, will soon have police stations exclusively to keep tabs on these. A long-pending proposal to the effect is finally taking off with BMC expediting its implementation. 
    "The urban development department had sent us the proposal asking us if we would bear the recurring and non-recurring costs. We will reply in the affirmative and the police stations will be ready within a year," said Chandrashekhar Rokade, deputy municipal commissioner (encroachments). 
    According to the proposal, there will be three police stations, one each in the island city, western and eastern suburbs with a police force of 1,095 justtolookinto matters related to encroachments and illegal constructions. 
    "We had asked BMC to look into the proposal and tell us if itwouldbear the recurring and non-recurring costs. Once that is done, we can take the work forward," said Manu Kumar Shrivastava, secretary, urban development department. 
    The police stations have been proposed atByculla,Andheri and Chembur. Civic officials said the proposal has been made along the lines of Maha
rashtra State Electricity Board's modelof policestationsset up to look into electricity thefts. "The proposal to create police stations in Maharashtra solely for problems related to unauthorized constructions had been pending for long. But now, we have expedited the process and chalked out a final proposal," said a senior civic official. "MSEB has set up six police stations across Maharashtra to exclusively concentrate on power thefts. We have foundoutthattheftshavecome down drastically over the years." 
    A budgetary provision of Rs 41.76 crore has been made for establishment costs and Rs 8.16 crore for the equipment required. According to the proposal,the policeforcewillbeon deputation for three years and the civic body will pay the deputation allowance. Assistant
police commissioners will head each police station. 
    BMC officials say the process of illegal construction is simple—and difficult to contain. A slumlord identifies open government land and reclaims it by illegally dumping construction debris. Shanties are constructed with brick masonry and rolling shutters. Later, structures are given permanent statuswiththehelp of officials. 
    Civic officials said that often complaints related to BMC are not registered at police stations.Moreover, a lackof a dedicated police force for these matters causes delays. 
    "The police stations will look into cases related to BMC Act, 1988, Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, Maharashtra Slum Improvement Act, 2005, and crimes related to urban development," Rokade said.

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