Protect the environment but forget the trees, Prime Minister?

Bombay High Court had not even heard of Aarey forest; Supreme Court intervened when the trees had been cut and Metro Rail finds no suitable place in Mumbai other than Aarey to put up a shed

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Ranjona Banerji

Glorious country India. The prime minister used Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary to announce all sorts of schemes to save the environment. These included stopping single use plastic, all plastic and generally any sort of announcement that might win you awards from the gullible or more likely from large conglomerates who want a stronger hold in your glorious country.

But trees? No one really mentioned trees. Unless some guru-type person hares off on a pointless publicity-grabbing sapling-planting drive. Or another guru-type destroyed river-bank ecosystems to put up a song-and-dance show. Guru types, they are glorious, aren’t they? How can anyone possibly criticise them?

And then there’s “development”. It is sacrilege to suggest anything that might stop “development”. Given the state of India in the last six years, no one really knows what “development” means except the grand development of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the cost of everyone else.

So, trees. What use are these? There is no such thing as climate change, remember, as the prime minister had informed us, it’s just that old people feel colder as they get older. Someone should really give the prime minister an award for that statement.

Trees, then. What does one do with them except make furniture? Or cut them down to make way for “development”? Let’s not forget that 40 hectares of forests, oops I mean dry desert land, in that area has already been cleared for a “zoo”, because Mumbai doesn’t already have Rani Bagh and zoos are the future, no? Caged animals and all that?

And a “car shed” for Mumbai’s Metro Railway, that’s just what trees are there for, after all. To be cut down when “development” comes along. We all know that Mumbai is a linear city, short on space and all that. And that there is absolutely nowhere in the whole city suitable for the Metro Railway company to put up a car shed.

We all know that. The whole city of Mumbai and only the forested areas of Aarey Milk Colony, on the edge of the Borivali National Park, could possibly be suitable for destruction, degradation and construction.

The number of trees to be sacrificed for the “greater good”? Let’s say, 3000. And in a remarkable display of efficiency, most of these were cut down at night almost as soon as the Bombay High Court decided that it had never really heard of Aarey or forests so cutting down trees somewhere far north of where the high court is situated is possibly all right. The Metro project criss-crosses the city in a variety of ways, not all comprehensible, so what are a few trees no one has heard of, eh?

The head of the MMRC (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation) has said that well, trees need to be cut for development, Mumbai needs the Metro Railway, life is tough, activists should respect the court’s decision to allow the trees to be cut and so on.

This respect gig is an interesting one. Because now the Supreme Court of India has stepped in to say that the tree-cutting should be stopped. Most of the trees have already been cut, but respect for court decisions and all that. Does that apply only to “activists” or the MMRC as well?

Hard to know really, things have changed so much in this glorious country of ours.

The usual excuse put forward by large organisations who absolutely must destroy the environment to “progress” is that they will plant millions of saplings.

Now planting saplings is an amazing way to pretend that you’re going to save the environment. Basically, you pick them up for free at government nurseries, smaller the sapling the better, employ a few cameras, get a few famous people to stand there. After that, who cares if the saplings survive. No one’s going to check, or care and you might even get an award for making saps out of a whole population that believed you. (Yes, I know, we’ve had several elections like that.)

Of course, it’s not just about the loss of trees but since you won’t even accept that the trees existed, what’s the point of discussing other plants, insects, birds, animals that live in densely planted areas? Or, should we discuss water? Or air? Or everything else that a linear, thickly-populated space-starved city like Mumbai needs?

You’re right. Respect this court order or that.

But forget the trees.

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