I Didn’t Give A Damn About The Environment, Until The Mumbai Metro Pissed Me Off

None of us is free if one of us is chained.

I’ve never been that person that yells at their friends for littering, or segregates their garbage. Hell, the only time I’ve paid attention to the environment was when I enrolled in the Children’s Movement For Civic Awareness (CMCA) with school, because all my friends were doing it (plus they had a really catchy pledge). While I may not be particularly active in such matters, I’m also not one to burst firecrackers because it’s ‘Diwali month’, or wedding season, or Justin Bieber, or India wins against Pakistan, or because it’s a Tuesday…

However, something’s come up over the past few months, which has got even the most non-controversial citizens like me riled up. Watching our ignorance and selfishness slowly destroy our beautiful city has made even the ‘uninvolved’  want to do something. Anything.

My peaceful green neighbourhood has been converted into a construction site. And for what? A transportation network that might not even be relevant by the time it’s built? 

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Is it really?

Let me explain my skepticism. The sea link took 10 years as opposed to the estimated 5 to be completed. That was a road. Nothing in this country ever really gets done as per schedule. But no, all of a sudden there’s an increasing urgency by the MMRCL (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation) to build this metal monstrosity, by hacking down every tree in its path.

Okay, I will admit it’s not entirely about the trees for me. I am not planning on attending the ‘Save Tree’ organization’s funeral procession for the ‘murdered’ trees (yes, this is an actual thing), or being a hero and reintroducing the Chipko movement in any way. It’s also about the most basic implications of the whole metro building process. It’s about how everything looks barren and brown when I look outside my window, it’s about how I can’t walk on the sidewalks anymore (because they don’t exist), it’s about how I’m eventually going to get fat because a hole has shown up in the garden where I used to walk, and it’s about how I am subjected to 5 hours of deafening drilling and digging on a daily basis. Looking at our track record (of permanently dug up roads and unfinished projects), I’m terrified that this is never going to end. If you think about the domino effect of these events, the country could go to war.

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The cause of my deafness and obesity

We Mumbaikars are constantly in a catch 22 situation, in a city which is in desperate need of a better system of transport, but is also rapidly losing its green cover. Undeniably, the construction of this much-needed metro line has been long overdue, and undoubtedly, it will revolutionize travel within the city; but the shortsightedness of the planning process is bound to affect our long term well-being. The fact of the matter is that even though the much-needed metro may take aeons to build, the giant broccoli lookalikes (lol trees) that die are essential to our city NOW (and forever).

The Mumbai High Court, in its stock reply to all allegations involving MMRCL malpractices has said that a balance had to be made between development and the environment. Fair enough. That is, if they were actually striking a balance. The 1:3 (hacked:grown) ratio has been violated, and seems to replaced by a 5000:0 ratio. That’s the direction we’re headed in, considering that of the 100s of trees that have been cut, 0 have been replanted. Give us back our trees.

Let’s explain the situation with the help of an analogy. The Maharashtra (Urban Areas) and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, says that 3 new saplings must be planted within 30 days of a tree being cut for the purpose of the metro. It also limits the felling to specific trees (and not others). The MMRCL is like an annoying friend who wants to borrow money from you. You give them access to your bank account, on the pretext that they only take a certain amount and pay you back within a month. The next time you check, you’re broke. That dude should pay you back with interest, as should the MMRCL with the environment. Increase the ratio. Make them pay.

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Sometimes we worship them, sometimes we cut them - ironic

Lets not forget my main men, the mangroves. Why is it that the only time anyone ever hears about the mangroves is when they’re dying? (And in my 8th grade EVS textbook).  ‘Mangroves are a place of recreation. Mangroves absorb carbon dioxide. Mangroves act as a buffer to protect us from natural disasters. Mangroves support various ecosystems.’ If these unfortunate underdogs are doing so much, why are we letting the MMRCL cutting down over a thousand of them?

I find the whole concept of a ‘World Environment Day’ redundant. Our Prime Minister can plant as many dustbins as he wants on this day, but if on the 364 days that remain we spit on the road, defecate in open areas, freely hack down trees, and basically shit on the environment, this day is nothing more than a social media craze.  

Trees were bound to be cut during the process, but the truth is that they underestimated the number, and are now over-cutting. The worst part? They’re justifying it. There is a direct interconnection between the rapidly diminishing environment and our well being, we’ve seen the accelerated effects of that over the last few years. Eventually, 40 years from now something new will come up, and we’ll be able to get from Cuffe Parade to Bandra in the blink of an eye; but does the interconnectedness of the city warrant the means by which they’re doing it? Which of the two interconnections is more important?

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Wasim, you will be missed :(

And come on, I don’t want to travel in a metal tube that cost my boy, Wasim Keymaker his job. That man has been my saviour on multiple occasions where I’ve lost my house key. My lucky locksmith has now been replaced by an ugly multi-coloured barricade. This metro better take me to Wasim Keymaker’s new shop (and help me figure out his last name while we’re at it).


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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com

By Tiana Kirpalani
Photographs by: Tiana Kirpalani
Cover photo credit: mumbaimessenger.com