One man on a mission to save 38 trees in Govandi - Hindustan Times
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One man on a mission to save 38 trees in Govandi

Jun 12, 2024 07:40 AM IST

After his complaints to BMC went unheeded, last month Khan approached the Bombay high court with a writ petition to save 38 trees

Mumbai: Appalled at how a large number of trees were dying in Govandi due to concretised bases and civic apathy, 39-year-old Irfan Khan decided to take matters into his own hands.

Irfan Khan brought to the notice of the high court how the trees (right) on a BMC-owned plot were being choked with concrete, garbage and building material.
Irfan Khan brought to the notice of the high court how the trees (right) on a BMC-owned plot were being choked with concrete, garbage and building material.

After his complaints to BMC went unheeded, last month Khan approached the Bombay high court with a writ petition to save 38 trees. His petition said that 11 of the trees had their bases concretised, while 27 others were choked with building material, cement water and garbage dumped around. “Two of the trees were shriveling and had dried up, very close to death. Concretising the base around the trees stops water from percolating to the tree’s roots. The trees don’t get nutrients, suffocate, become weak and then die.”

After his petition was heard on May 29, the BMC began removing the concrete choking the trees, and submitted to the court that they would address the issue on a “war footing”.

The trees in question are on a BMC-owned plot on the Ghatkopar-Mulund Link Road (GMLR) in Govandi, part of which has been leased to a private school. Khan recalled that in 2022, two trees were felled on the plot. “I had complained then to the BMC’s garden department, M East ward office and the Shivaji Nagar police station. Along with the people of the neighbourhood, we also took out a morcha, only to find, the next day, that the stumps of the trees had vanished too.” He said that police only filed a non-cognizable complaint and no further action was taken.

Two years later, in April this year, when he saw trees on the same plot in a bad shape again, Khan immediately submitted a complaint to BMC. Expecting an improvement, Khan only grew more horrified at his next visit in May; the 11 trees in the BMC’s portion of the plot were entirely concretised. The other 27 were not faring much better, with debris and garbage dumped around them. He filed another complaint with the BMC on May 20, but going by his previous experience of BMC apathy, this time he decided to approach the HC with a writ petition.

The petition referred to the National Green Tribunal’s order in January that mandates a one-metre area to be left around the base of the tree while concretisation to give it some breathing space.

“On the first day of hearing, May 29, the BMC said they would take immediate action to deconcretise and save the trees,” said Altaf Khan, Khan’s lawyer. “But they claimed two trees were already dead and couldn’t be salvaged. We asked if an arborist could be appointed to look into the health of the trees, but the BMC claimed it had enough expertise.”

The court also permitted the petitioner a site visit to inspect the deconcretisation work. Khan said when they visited the next day, workers had begun breaking the concrete around five of the trees.

A BMC official from the gardens department of the M East ward said, “When we first got the complaint, the entire department was busy on election duty. As soon as the petition was heard, we began the work of making a 1-meter distance around the base of all the trees.”

“One of the trees has already dried up and died from a while ago, but we are trying to revive the other one with fertilizer. We are watching to see how it endures in the rain,” he said.

Speaking broadly about the practice of concretising trees, the official claimed the situation had improved after the NGT order, as the roads department too issued guidelines to road contractors.

With the date of the next hearing on June 20, and the deconcretisation work complete, Khan is victorious, for now, although it has racked up his bills to 50,000. Yet the businessman and a former corporator of the area with the Samajwadi Party was not remorseful of the expenses.

“We, the residents of Govandi, are already being choked by the biochemical incinerator and the Deonar dumping ground. If anybody needs trees, it’s us,” he said.

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