#Aarey: Time To Recognise That Our Planet Is On Fire
As millions across the world recognize the climate crisis, increasing numbers are acting with the recognition that our planet is on fire.
They recognize that in an emergency, you act to save your house, not decorate your room. Unfortunately, in Mumbai, the executive, legislature and judiciary are yet to act as if our house is on fire.
A few days ago, at least 2,700 trees were felled in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony due to the permission given by the Tree Authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The Tree Authority is a statutory body formed under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975 (Tree Act) and headed by the Municipal Commissioner of the Corporation.
The Tree Act was created in 1975 “to make better provision for protection and preservation of trees in urban areas in the State” as the “growing pace of urbanization and industrialization, there has been indiscriminate felling of large number of trees in the urban areas”. The duties of the Tree Authority are defined in section 7 of the Tree Act.
The prime duty of the Tree Authority is “protection and preservation of all trees in all lands within its jurisdiction”.
Under section 21 of the Tree Act “Whoever fells any tree or causes any tree to be felled in contravention of the provisions of the Act” is punishable with a fine and imprisonment. Section 20 requires that “any police officer may take such steps and use such force as may be reasonably necessary to prevent the felling or destruction of any tree or for the protection of any tree”.
Sadly, the Tree Authority that is mandated to protect and preserve all trees in all lands is the very one that caused at least 2,700 trees to be felled in contravention of the provisions of the Act. Sadly, the police officers, who were required by the act to take such steps and even use force to prevent the destruction of even a single tree, did exactly the opposite, they used force to cause trees to be felled.
They argued this was not a forest land, when the law said it did not matter what land the tree stood on.
The Chief Minister claimed this was environmentally sound as the metro car shed being built here would allow the metro to sequester as much carbon as the 2,700 trees would in just 80 days of the metro operations. This shows complete disrespect for the law and ignorance of the climate crisis. Irrespective of the reasons, the Tree Act is meant to protect and preserve existing trees, not to weigh it against the pressures of urbanisation. Furthermore, reducing carbon emissions, even if the metro did accomplish that, is not the same as sequestering carbon.
The Chief Minister’s statement conveys his ignorance of the Prime Minister’s commitment at the Paris Summit in 2015 to increase India’s carbon sequestration by an additional 3 billion tons and reducing India’s carbon emission intensity of the GDP by 30 percent of the 2005 levels. This means that if the metro reduces the emissions due to shift of people from cars to the metro as speculated by the Chief Minister, it would contribute to reducing the carbon emission intensity of the GDP. It does not sequester any carbon. The destruction of 2,700 trees, however, is not only illegal according to the Tree Act, it violates the Prime Minister’s commitment to the Conference of Parties to increase India’s carbon sequestration capacity by 3 billion tons.
Currently, India’s carbon sequestration capacity is a mere 0.28 billion tons. This means every tree must be counted.
Furthermore, the Tree Authority, The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Mumbai Metrorail Corporation, the Chief Minister and all those who see this as a development vs environment issue show their ignorance like the 5 blind men and the elephant.
A doctor doesn’t ask an obese person to lay more blood vessels to take the load of existing blood vessels to transport nutrients. A doctor puts the obese patient on diet and exercise. Cities like Mumbai are super-obese. They do not need more infrastructure; they need diet and exercise to become lean.
The obesity and growth of urbanization is the failure of enabling people in rural India to live fulfilling lives. It is the uprooting of rural India. It is the destruction of rural land holdings or livelihoods. It is the creation of demand for urban services and goods that rural India did not need. It is the exploitation of cheap labor. It is the failure of governance. It is the addiction to spending money. It is the addiction to technology and markets as the driver for new infrastructure.
Those who benefit from selling newer technologies and creating new markets create immediate rewards for those who create new infrastructure. They destroy the investments in the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born now.
Until the Tree Authority, The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Mumbai Metrorail Corporation, the Chief Minister are evaluated on the Short Now and not the short term, until they are subject to the same laws and living conditions as the rest of us, until they do not face the consequences of violating the Tree Act and the Prime Minister’s commitment to COP21, they will have no reason to do anything differently.
They will not have any skin in the game. Until then the executive, legislature and judiciary will not recognize that our house is on fire.
They will continue to destroy the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born today.