MMRCL began cutting trees despite having no arborist on board to oversee the operation. Singapore-based Rick Thomas and Mumbaikar Vaibhav Raje, who was attached to MMRCL, have both left – Thomas in June 2018 and Raje in August this year.
In an email to Mumbai Mirror, Thomas, director of consulting firm Arbor-Culture, confirmed that his contract with MMRCL had expired. “It [his contract] was in operation for one year and MMRCL has not approached me for extension or renewal,” he said.
In June 2017 MMRCL claimed that it had appointed Singapore-based arborist Simon Leong to oversee a tree management plan for the Colaba-SEEPZ Metro 3 project – a claim Leong denied. MMRCL then hired Thomas, who, it claimed, visited all sites and conducted training workshops for contractors.
Raje was associated with the Metro 3 project from 2015. “I was on a contract with MMRCL and after August this year, I’m no longer working with them,” he said, refusing to comment further.
Raje, a graduate in horticulture from the Dr Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth in Dapoli, is the only arborist in the city with a qualification from the International Society of Arboriculture in the US.
Green activists said felling and transplanting trees without consulting arborists was not advisable. “MMRCL is in a hurry to cut the trees. This is when arborists are required. The survival rate of transplanted trees is poor. MMRCL should have taken on board top arborists before felling the trees,” said activist Zoru Bathena.
An official from the BMC’s Garden Department said the trees would be cut under the supervision of horticulturists appointed by the MMRCL. “We have been told that the contractors appointed by the MMRCL have horticulturists on board and the MMRCL also has a horticulturist. But beyond that we don’t know if they have any arborists,” he said.
When contacted SK Gupta, Director, Works, MMRCL, said he did not want to comment on the issue and asked Mumbai Mirror to get in touch with the PR team.
Vaidehi More, PR consultant with MMRCL, did not respond to calls and text messages.