The residents and activists of Vile Parle (East) in Mumbai, where a 100-year-old heritage tree was hacked off by Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) authorities three days ago, have met with the BMC committee and urged them not to remove the stump of the tree so that the tree could be restored and recovered.
The civic body has, however, requested a copy of the Bombay High Court ruling halting the tree’s chopping, as well as an explanation as to “why they believe the tree’s chopping is illegal?” The BMC further stated that if the residents fail to bring a copy of the orders, the stump will be removed.
Mumbai police heckles activist for questioning the cutting of a heritage tree
The issue gained traction after videos emerged on January 22, Saturday, wherein the Mumbai Police were seen manhandling a man and pushing him into a police van. The man in question was a Mumbai based environmental activist named Abhay Azad of the Save Aarey citizens’ group.
In a video that went viral on January 22, Mumbai cops were seen holding the activist by his neck and pushing him into the police van. Reports suggest the police had forcibly detained Abhay Azad for raising questions when a huge 100-year-old peepal tree was hacked in the Gaothan area of Vile Parle (East) on Saturday. He was also threatened with a First Information Report (FIR) after he protested against the same.
When a 100-year-old tree was being cut in Mumbai, environmental activist Abhay Azad questioned it— Mahesh Vikram Hegde 🇮🇳 (@mvmeet) January 22, 2022
Within no time, he was forcefully put in a police van & was threatened with an FIR
Where are the pseudo-environment activists who did drama during Fadnavis era? pic.twitter.com/8By54brEc6
Speaking to ANI, the environmental activist Abhay Azad said, “A 100-yr-old tree was being cut in the Vile Parle area today. I asked BMC officers for permission under which it was being done. I was later forcefully put in a police van and was threatened with an FIR against me. Last year, the Maharashtra govt declared every tree above 50 years as a heritage tree. If trees will be cut down like this, there will be no heritage left in the city. It is unfair if a citizen is punished for raising the voice for the protection of trees.”
Azad in an exclusive interview with Mirror Now revealed that he received information on WhatsApp that a tree near his home was being cut down. He then rushed to the location and requested that the officials there show him valid permissions for the tree to be felled. He said that they showed him an outdated 2018 letter to justify their action.
MUMBAI: ACTIVIST QUESTIONS TREE CUTTING, DETAINED!— Mirror Now (@MirrorNow) January 23, 2022
Activist #AbhayAzad, the activist who was seen being manhandled by the Mumbai cops, speaks to #MirrorNow about the incident. He said he “requested” the officials to not cut the tree pic.twitter.com/xBJJRZIa8v
Azad further stated that three years ago, he and a fellow activist had made submissions to save the tree in question. The green activist said it was surprising to see BMC authorities arrive at the site years later and cut down the tree.
It may be noted that TOI that has named the aforementioned activist as Abhay Bavishi, reported that he has now written to the BMC, as well as state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray about the allegedly illegal tree cutting.
“This looks like an illegal tree cutting because the order to cut it is dated 2018. What was the need to hack it now, after nearly four years, when the tree was not coming in the way of anything? It looks like some builder lobby wanted to get rid of this heritage tree in order to develop the Gaothan area. It is tragic that this big peepal tree could not be saved,” TOI quoted another activist Zoru Bathena as saying.
Maharashtra Govt led by Uddhav Thackeray clears action plan for protection of heritage trees
It’s worth noting that the Maharashtra government passed an action plan in June 2021 to protect trees older than 50 years in urban areas, dubbing them as ‘historic trees’.
The plan that was passed on June 10, 2021, included the concept of heritage trees and conservation, a process to define the age of the tree, plantation as compensation, guidelines to be followed before cutting down trees, forming a Maharashtra Tree Authority, a local tree authority and their duties, tree census, selecting a tree plantation land, tree transplantation, and fines that would be imposed.
As per the plan, trees older than 50 would be termed heritage trees and a State-level Tree Authority would be formed to protect and preserve these heritage trees.
Here it becomes imperative to recall how the Shiv Sena govt led by Uddhav Thackeray has been playing petty politics over the Aarey forest ever since the Shiv Sena supremo took over the Maharashtra’s chief minister’s seat.
Shiv Sena and its activism over Aarey Forest
The Uddhav Thackeray-led govt, in a vindictive order, had declared the Aarey area where the metro car shed was planed as ‘forest land’ and had shifted the facility to government land in Kanjurmarg. The decision to shift the metro car shed came after several left-wing activists and Sena prince Aaditya Thackeray had expressed their disapproval for the construction of the metro shed at Aarey.
Even though the metro project will substantially improve the environment by removing lakhs of fossil fuel-guzzling vehicles from the roads, the project was opposed due to political reasons. The decision to shift the metro car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg will now increase the project’s cost by at least Rs 4,000 crore, which was estimated by a committee appointed by the current government. Further, the project will also be delayed by several years due to ongoing litigation and the condition of the new site.
After cancelling Metro Shed project in Aarey, Maharashtra govt keen on monetizing ‘forest land’
Months after arbitrarily cancelling the much-needed Metro project near the Aarey area by claiming it as a ‘forest’ land, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra had suddenly appeared keen on monetizing the Aarey Forest land.
In a government resolution issued in May last year, the Maharashtra government had appointed a five-member committee headed by Madhav Kale, director of planning and transport of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation, to suggest how the government can monetize its land and raise funds for its various projects.
U-turn of Shiv Sena on environmental activism
The ruling Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which often advocates for eco-conservation by cancelling the metro project at Aarey on ‘concerns’ that trees are being cut, earlier took a U-turn by deciding to axe more than 300 trees for the construction of a metro line the elevated Metro-2A corridor between Dahisar and DN Nagar. Shiv Sena, especially under the leadership of Aaditya Thackeray, had been extremely vocal on the issues of environmental conversation, as the young Sena prince had opposed the BJP government’s decision of felling of trees at Aarey Milk colony to construct a Metro shed.
A month after extreme activism by Shiv Sena to impress its coalition parties – Congress and NCP, Sena had exposed its hypocrisy by ordering the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation to chop down 1,000 trees for a Bal Thackeray memorial in Priyadarshini Park. Interestingly, the environmental activists, NGOs and liberals who had hit the streets to protest against the then BJP government in the state for axing the trees at Aarey colony have now suspiciously chosen to remain silent. Perhaps, the activist seems to have come to a conclusion that it is a right step to axe the trees for the metro as the decision has been taken by the secular alliance of Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP.