A petitioner at the Bombay high court (HC), along with citizen groups, has identified 86 tree species on the 33-ha plot in Aarey where Metro-3 car shed will be built.
Of these, four species – 82 mango (Magnifera indica), one khair (Senegalia catechu), 20 jambhul (Syzygium cumini), and 20 shivan (Gmelina arborea) – are scheduled trees, protected under the Maharashtra Felling of Trees (Regulation) Act, 1964. Experts said over 30 plus species of native trees, with examples such as 153 trees of vavla (Holoptelea integrifolia), 87 trees of kakad (Garuga pinnata), 445 trees of shemat (Indian Ash tree or Lannea coromandelica) etc., are on the list and are only found across forest areas. The list will be submitted before the Bombay HC during its next hearing.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) tree authority has already approved the felling of 2,185 trees and transplantation of 464 trees. Currently, no tree can be felled until the matter is heard on September 17.
Khar resident Zoru Bhathena, with members of Aarey Conservation Group, compiled a tally of 3,721 trees from a 620-page proposal submitted before the authority and acquired an 83-page application made by Metro authorities to the tree authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. “The purpose was to understand the types of trees present at the Aarey car shed site. There is no clarity on what we were actually losing,” said Bhathena. “The idea is to highlight the eco-diversity of this plot with valuable trees in it.”
In all, there are 32 indigenous tree species only found in forest areas and not within the city, said Rajendra Shinde, botanist and principal of St Xavier’s College. “If trees belonging to forests are present on this patch, it is proof the site is a forest. If we look at the satellite maps of the last 100 years, it will be clear that Aarey is a continuous patch with SGNP. Thus, there is no doubt that the site needs to be protected,” said Shinde.
Rene Vyas, tree expert said banyan, peepal (sacred fig), and umbar (cluster fig), were keystone species while palash (sacred tree) and red silk cotton were pioneer species. “The native trees are the masters of their own environment, and do not randomly come up on such sites. They have their unique identity, which we don’t understand. It gives us no right to destroy them,” she said.
The Maharashtra Felling of Trees (Regulation) Act, 1964, lists 15 scheduled species that need special permission from the forest department before felling them. However, senior forest officers said the law allows the municipal TA to permit felling scheduled trees in urban limits.
“Forest department needs to urgently study the loss of over a 100 scheduled trees on this list,” said Avinash Kubal, former deputy director, Maharashtra Nature Park. “The original list has been made in haste so there are some repetitions and wrong names, which can only be understood through proper site visits.”
Other said it was an extensive list but had a few exotic trees. Thirty trees were identified as dead. “These trees should be planted within the city also. The only negative sign is there are plenty of subabhul (Leucaena Leucocephala), rain trees and gulmohar, which are exotic planted by lazy foresters over the years,” said Dr Ashok Kothari, president, National Society of the Friends of Trees.
“Irrespective of being exotic, some of these trees like the Gorakh Chinch (Adansonia digitata) or Baobab tree have been given special status globally and locally too,” said Anand Pendharkar, wildlife biologist. “By felling 169 rain trees and other exotics that tall hardy trees, large amounts of carbon dioxide will be released in the atmosphere as they sequester maximum carbon. Similarly, re-growing these trees would take at least 30-40 years.”