Delhi vs Mumbai: Mere Paas Ped Hain


Delhi vs Mumbai: Mere Paas Ped Hain

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Delhi vs Mumbai is an age-old debate. Mumbai’s got better seafood, but Delhi has amazing Mughlai cuisine. The traffic in Delhi is better than Mumbai, but the motorists’ road rage is worse. Eventually, the city you back is inevitably the one you’ve lived in longest. This is why I’ve always been a firm supporter of the coastal city in the Mumbai vs Delhi debate. Until now.

A recent order from the Delhi HC proves that the capital is unequivocally better than Mumbai at one specific thing: protecting the city’s trees.

Yesterday, the Delhi HC issued an order that stayed the felling of over 16,500 trees in South Delhi’s residential neighbourhoods, questioning whether the smog-covered city could afford the loss of its green lung. It’s a question I wish Mumbai’s Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had stopped to ask themselves while cutting down trees in Mumbai last year faster than a Salman Khan film makes ₹100 crore.

Mumbai’s residents even organised a Chipko-style protest at the sites where trees were being cut, spread awareness on social media, and started an online petition to CM Devendra Fadnavis to stop the felling. But all of that proved to be as effective as a hair removal cream on Anil Kapoor. Hundreds of trees were axed, some that had been providing shade for many decades. While Delhi managed to save the lives of 16,500 trees, Mumbai couldn’t even save 5,000.

As the wrangling over Mumbai’s green cover continues, the city’s treeline looks more like Virender Sehwag’s retreating hairline.

When petitioners approached the Bombay High Court in May last year asking for a stay on the tree-cutting exercise, the Court refused, stating, “A balance had to be made between development and the environment.” This is a far cry from the Delhi High Court wondering if the city’s choked lungs can bear the loss of thousands of trees. While Mumbai may not have the smog problems of Delhi, it will not be winning any pollution-free awards anytime soon. Maximum City regularly features on lists of cities with the highest vehicle density (number of cars per kilometre of roads), and all those exhaust fumes are now being expelled into our lungs without the fresh air the trees provided to offset them. Breathe in the dusty, coarse smell of urban development!

This “development” all too often comes at the expense of our environment. It isn’t just shade-giving trees that beautify urban areas that Mumbai has lost over the last 12 months. There has been significant debate over the government awarding a massive parcel of land in the wooded environs of Aarey Colony to the MMRDC to build a car shed for its upcoming Metro-3 line. The project has alarmed environmental activists, who stated the MMRDC was understating the impact it would have on the local ecosystem. Meanwhile, the sheer amount of red tape involved in getting clearances for a project of this size permits MMRDC to hide behind loopholes, stating that the land is not as densely forested as activists claim, and that they will replant the felled trees at a new location.

These claims are best taken with a pinch of salt. From demonetisation to Swachh Bharat, poor implementation has hamstrung many noble-minded government schemes, and there’s no evidence that the transplantation of Mumbai’s green cover will fare any differently. An activist has already clicked photos of swampy, contaminated ground at Wadala that was earmarked as a possible transplantation site. As the bureaucratic wrangling over Mumbai’s green cover continues, the city’s treeline begins to resemble Virender Sehwag’s hairline in how fast it’s beating a retreat.

The Dilliwalas don’t know how good they have it. They might have a CM who prefers sleepovers at the LG’s office instead of active politics, and a reputation as a breeding ground for misogyny, but they also have a government that values its green cover. The eternal battle of Delhi vs Mumbai continues to rage on. At this point, Mumbai is dropping bombs like, “Mere paas Gateway of India hai, Bandra-Worli Sealink hain, India ka best pav bhaji hai. Tumhare paas kya hai?”

And Delhi will answer, with a mic-drop that puts the debate to bed, for now. “Mere paas ped hain.”