“Why cut down trees when you can transplant them elsewhere”, was what the social media was abuzz with, when protests took over the streets of Mumbai over felling of trees in Aarey Milk Colony a few months ago. As many as 461 trees were to be transplanted from Aarey for the Metro 3 Project by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL).
The felling of trees was stayed by the Supreme Court on the back of the protests.
At the same time, 1,066 trees were transplanted into the Aarey Milk Colony as part of the metro project.
Now, a court-appointed team inspecting the transplantation efforts in the Metro 3 project has found that 684 of these 1,066 have already died, tree activist Zoru Bhathena told The Quint.
This means 64 percent of the plants transplanted into Aarey have died.
The MMRCL Metro 3 project runs from Colaba to Andheri and is different from the metro car shed project planned inside the Aarey colony.
While the panel was supposed to submit the report to the court, the MMRC also confirmed that out of a total 1,582 treed that were transplanted, 1010 trees died.
When asked why the MMRC decided to transplant over 1,500 trees, the organisation told The Quint:
“The ‘Tree Authority of MCGM’ while giving an approval decides how many and which trees are to be transplanted and how many are to be freshly planted. The success rate of transplantation process depends on the type of species, size, age and health of the trees and their root ball system. It also depends on the area’s geology and soil. Transplantation in urban settings becomes challenging as the roots get entangled in underground utilities and concrete structures.”MMRC Spokesperson
The numbers from this report explains what experts in the field of ecology and conservation have been saying – that transplantation is not “viable alternative” to tree cutting.
Here’s What It Takes to Transplant a Tree
According to Bengaluru-based ‘Tree Doctor’ Vijay Nishant, who was involved in relocating trees for a Bengaluru Metro project, not all trees can be transplanted.
Speaking to The Quint, Kanchi Kohli, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, pointed that trees that have to be transplanted, have to be felled differently.
“It requires a different kind of felling. Trees can’t just be felled and transplanted. From the visuals of the felled trees, it looks like it is not meant for transplantation. Whether they have felled trees for transplantation is something they have to clarify.”Kanchi Kohli, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Research
Multiple examples from Delhi, including the Pragati Maidan project in Delhi, further helps us that transplantation does not guarantee survival. An audit survey showed that only 36 of 1,713 trees –just 2.1 percent were actually found healthy enough to survive the translocation.
“There is no guarantee that the transplanted tree will also survive. Who can guarantee that it won’t be subject to axe for another developmental project?”Kanchi Kohli, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Research
‘Plantation Shouldn’t Be Considered Even As Last Resort’
Trees are not to be seen as trees but as urban spaces that are not just ecologically important but also socially important, said Kohli, pointing that architectural design should adapt to the trees and not the other way around.
Echoing her, New Delhi Nature Society’s, Varhean Khanna says that urban spaces should, henceforth, be planned thinking that trees are not structures that can be felled or transplanted. The only option should be that they have to continue standing, he added.
“To talk specifically about Aarey, an alternate location was suggested. But it was ignored – so this is more like a land grab case. The only alternate is not to cut down any trees at all. Just plan the shed keeping in mind that the trees are structures that are impossible to fell.”Verhaen Khanna, New Delhi Nature Society