Mumbai: BMC to meet locals over felling of trees at  Tata Garden

The ‘grieving meeting’ that was held by environmentalists and residents on Sunday to mourn the loss of Tata Garden in Breach Candy turned into a one-on-one meeting with BMC officials, followed with a candlelight vigil. BMC officials from its D ward and engineers of coastal road joined the meeting and discussed the issue with residents and environmentalists.

The BMC has invited environmentalists and residents to visit its office to discuss the matter further.

Several trees in and around the garden were felled on Friday in order to make way for BMC’s ambitious coastal road project. Residents and activists are upset that tree cutting was resumed barely a day after the Bombay high court had vacated a stay that had restricted the BMC from felling any more trees in the area.

As many as 140 trees in the 1.1 acre garden will be chopped for a traffic intersection arm of the coastal road. The BMC started felling trees in May, following which residents and members of an NGO, Society For Improvement Greenery and Nature (SIGNATURE), filed a PIL in the HC, seeking a stay.

The court then ordered a temporary stay on felling of trees. However, during the final hearing on June 29, the HC vacated its stay, citing rule number 7A of the PIL that states a security deposit of Rs 60 crore, which is 0.5% of the entire project cost must be paid by the petitioner.

The petitioners said that it was impossible for them to deposit such a large amount in court as they are only a group of morning walkers

Meanwhile, the BMC said that the garden will be extended towards the sea. “We intend to create a separate space for green cover on the reclaimed land,” said an offical.

However, residents and environmentalists are against this alternate space offered by BMC for the garden stating that the place is covered with rocks and trees won't survive in such a place. “With just 1.1 metre of soil and fertiliser no tree can grow,” said Dr Dr. Nilesh Baxi, a petitioner.

Activist Zoru Bhathena said the BMC should have considered the alternative proposed by the residents.

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Dr. Nilesh Baxi, one of the petitioners and founder of SIGNATURE and former member of BMC tree authority , said the BMC started felling trees inside and outside the garden on Friday. He said that local residents had earlier proposed that instead of cutting the trees, the BMC could take over the Signature Garden in the adjoining plot that has only 45 trees. This, too, would have served the purpose. “The signature garden was built by citizens. We are ready to hand it over to the BMC as we are not against the project. However, all our proposals have fallen on deaf ears,” said Baxi.

Meanwhile, the BMC said that the garden will be extended towards the sea. “We intend to create a separate space for green cover on the reclaimed land. Also, the trees that are cut will be transplanted to an alternative plot and we have been telling this to the residents and environmentalists. The alternative plot proposed by residents will not be suitable as from the proposed interchange the traffic will move towards Malabar Hill, Peddar Road and Mahalaxmi,” said a senior official associated with the project. “Also, we chopped the trees only after the court vacated the stay. We have all the necessary permissions and are only following orders,” said the official.

However, residents and environmentalists are against this alternate space offered by BMC for the garden stating that the place is covered with rocks and trees won't survive in such a place. "With just 1.1 metre of soil and fertiliser no tree can grow. They will need tremendous amounts of water, they haven't made any provision for water. They have not clarified how many gardeners they will employ. All this seems to be in the air and is an eyewash.

Activist Zoru Bhathena said the BMC should have considered the alternative proposed by the residents. “In the name of development, all major green cover of the city are being destroyed. No one is against the development and such projects, which is why we are proposing an alternative. They told us that they will be developing around 50 hectares of garden but that will take a few years. On Sunday we openly questioned BMC's intention in Shifting the garden to the other side. They could have first constructed the garden and then cut the trees,” Bhathena said.

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