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Planted by Bal Thackeray, felled by rain, saved by BMC: The tale of a ‘VIP’ gulmohar tree

Gulmohar in Mumbai's Shivaji Park collapsed Sunday night. BMC officials spurred into action & tree was replanted by Monday afternoon, while Shiv Sena leaders also arrived to take stock.

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Mumbai: On Sunday, a gulmohar tree in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park collapsed around midnight.

The G North Administrative ward, under whose jurisdiction Shivaji Park falls, got an urgent notification from the control room. The garden department of the Mumbai civic body was galvanised into action, and by 3.30 pm Monday, the uprooted tree was transplanted to another spot a few feet away. But why would one tree get so much attention?

For the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — which the Shiv Sena helmed for 25 years until an administrator took over in March this year — the tree was unlike any other. It was a VIP, planted decades ago by Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

Speaking to ThePrint, former Shiv Sena corporator Vishakha Raut said, “Balasaheb and Ma saheb (Thackeray’s wife Meena Thackeray) had planted the tree, so it had a lot of sentimental value for us. The administration also agreed that it was important to save and preserve the tree, and acted swiftly.”

“We have done everything we could. Now, we are hoping it survives,” she said, adding that she and other Shiv Sena leaders such as former Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar had reached the spot to take stock Monday morning. 

The VIP gulmohar tree

For years, there has been a plaque in front of the tree declaring that the “Gulmohar tree was planted by the Honourable Shiv Sena Chief Balasaheb Thackeray with his own hands”. 

After Thackeray’s death in 2012, the tree was included in the premises of a small memorial built for the Shiv Sena founder at Shivaji Park. 

On Thursday, a few of the newly sworn-in state cabinet ministers from the rebel Shiv Sena camp visited the Thackeray memorial and also took stock of the transplanted tree. They directed G North ward authorities to take every step possible to ensure that the tree survives, an official from the ward office told ThePrint.

Raut, who remains loyal to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, criticised the ministers’ interest in the tree as “Varati maagun ghoda“. (A horse that has come after the entire wedding procession has passed). 

Raut said, “We promptly reached the spot and took care of the tree. None of them thought about it at the time.”

An official from the civic body’s garden department told ThePrint that the tree was an exotic variety of the gulmohar.

“The gulmohar was very popular at one time because of its fiery red blooms during the summers. Many people would plant it. However, in our experience, the survival rate of transplanted gulmohar trees has been the worst,” he said.

“The trees that are damaged in the city due to extreme weather are also usually gulmohar trees. The tree cannot take a lot of urban stress. Nevertheless, we have done our best and are monitoring the tree every day,” he added.

Also Read: Why Uddhav ally Congress is backing Shinde on cancelling MVA govt’s BMC delimitation

How did BMC transplant the tree? 

The official from the garden department said that the entire operation of transplanting the tree required a team of 12-15 people, most of them horticulturalists and officials from the department itself, and a few from the BMC’s electrical and maintenance department because there were also some electrical lines and water pipes at the spot.

“We first trimmed the branches to reduce the load of the tree and then trimmed the damaged roots to minimise the chances of the tree being infected. There are some root health boosters that we applied on the good roots. We decided on a new, suitable location about four or five feet away from the current one,” he said.

The BMC then dug a pit about five feet deep at the new location and replanted the uprooted tree in it. The civic body applied a nutrient paste on the trimmed branches to spur growth. “As it is constantly raining, the chances of the tree surviving are strong,” the official said. 

“Our staff has been regularly visiting the spot and monitoring the tree,” he added.

(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)

Also Read: ‘God of Mumbai heritage is in small details’ – BMC is bringing back city’s old street furniture


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