The disaster management department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been receiving on an average, more than 3,000 tree fall complaints annually, for the last six years. According to its data, over 24,000 complaints pertaining to falling of trees were received between 2015 to 2020. While 34 people were killed in tree falls in six years, over 200 were left injured.
The data indicates that this year, 3,014 tree fall incidents have been reported between January and August, in which nine people were reportedly injured while 612 trees collapsed between August 4 and August 6.
The highest number of tree fall incidents (5,714) were reported in 2017 alone, with six deaths and 37 injured, followed by 2019, when 4,937 tree fall complaints were recorded.
“Despite pruning and trimming thousands of trees every year ahead of monsoon, latest data by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporations (BMC) disaster management unit has revealed that on an average, they receive over 2,000 tree fall complaints every year. The major factor for this is the wrong method of trimming trees adopted by the civic/ contract workers on the job over the years. It is observed that those involved in tree trimming/pruning, mostly trim them from below, instead of the top. So, you will see that Mumbai is the only place where there are tall, top-heavy trees, which are weak below. As a result, in heavy rains and gusty winds, these trees are prone to falling,” said environmentalist Zoru Bhathena.
Bhathena added that another factor that leads to tree falls is rapid concretisation, which results in the roots of trees not getting enough soil to expand.
Though arborists and residents blame the BMC for poor trimming of trees and the resulting deaths due to falling trees/branches, the data collected by the civic body shows that the incidence of such falls was more than double on private premises. “This June, of the 1,217 tree fall complaints, 820 were from private premises. Similarly, in July, of the 713 tree falls, 489 were from private premises. This is a natural phenomenon and there is nothing we can do to avert it. However, we carry out pruning, trimming and even inspection annually, to ensure trees are in good health and take immediate action if they look dangerous,” said a BMC official.
However environmentalists are wondering, even if more than 24,000 trees have fallen naturally, where are the 48,000 replacement that the civic body should have planted to compensate for their loss? “Is there any data with the civic body on where have they planted replacements? First, it must reveal that,” Bhathena wanted to know.
In July, the civic body had proposed to fell and transplant as many as 1,961 trees to make way for various development projects at 19 sites across Mumbai. Apart from this, on August 5, the Bombay High Court permitted the cutting of 357 mangrove trees to make way for the Bhakti Park metro station on Metro line 4, which connects Wadala-Ghatkopar-Mulund-Thane.
Meanwhile, the MMRDA has agreed to bear the cost of compensatory afforestation on one hectare of degraded forest land in the possession of the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation unit, which will be planting 4,444 mangrove saplings.
However environmentalists feel tree transplantation is a failure so far and nearly 90 per cent of transplants do not survive. “The way trees are transplanted seems faulty/ wrong and the survival rate of these transplants is very poor. Most of the time, these die,” Bhathena observed.