Falling branches & More Shaktimans
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Falling branches & More Shaktimans

February 10, 2024

On Tuesday, a man died when a tree branch fell on his head. Even his helmet couldn’t save him. But what could have saved him was probably the timely pruning of the tree. 

Every year, people die in our city as tree branches fall due to lack of timely pruning.  Yet citizens are confused about who should prune trees. 

This reminds us of the 2013 monsoon when rains wreaked havoc in the city, with several trees falling. A survey was conducted and it concluded that scientific and timely tree pruning was necessary to stop death and service disruption. Ten years later, we still have the same problem! 

In 2013, M. Mahadev, the then Managing Director of Chamundeshwari Electricity Supply Corporation (CESC), said that non-pruning had cost CESC heavily as it had brought down around 200 electric poles. Mahadev said the onus of surveying and pruning trees falls on the Forest Department.

Strangely, the then Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF), Mysore, P. Durgegowda, responded by saying that the Forest Department prunes trees only when citizens call and there is no need for any survey or scientific pruning! 

Shockingly, the ACF expects citizens to know which tree is deep-rooted enough to withstand heavy rains.

Also, who’s standing around looking up at trees, wondering which branch will fall and kill us? And what’s the number to call to report if we find such ‘criminal trees’ and their sidekicks the ‘killer branches’?  

The question is, should the CESC prune trees to protect their electric lines, should the Forest Department do it as the trees come under their preview, or should the MCC do it as they are the caretakers of the city? Who is to prune our trees and save lives? 

According to a Forest official, MCC has to cut and prune dangerous trees and branches in its jurisdiction, and the Forest Department maintains trees only inside parks. 

This could be true considering that the MCC paid compensation of Rs. 10,000 to a rider in 2014 whose two-wheeler was damaged in a tree fall at Metagalli. 

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So will MCC pay compensation to the family of Reginald Platel, who died on Tuesday, Feb. 6? 

Meanwhile, where is Shaktiman?

 It was also reported day before that the Horticulture Department of the MCC, responsible for pruning old and dangerous branches, is not equipped to prune trees at the moment.

The MCC Assistant Executive Engineer confessed that they didn’t have a vehicle equipped with a ladder to prune trees as the RTO had seized them because they were more than 35 years old and unfit for operations! But why not use Shaktiman?

In 2019, the then MCC Commissioner K.H. Jagadeesha introduced Shaktiman to Mysureans with great fanfare. He had said that Shaktiman is the first such machine procured by any City Corporation in Karnataka, and this will be useful in pruning trees, branches, dry twigs and even leaves.

The MCC Commissioner then went on to say that Shaktiman is so tall that it can even prune the tallest trees over 30 feet easily. 

The MCC also released a press statement extolling  Shaktiman’s traits. It said Shaktiman can swivel 360 degrees and has a smooth operating procedure. It has a long-reach chainsaw cutter. It is a rugged machine and is low maintenance as it does not have clutch, gearbox, etc. 

The way MCC promoted Shaktiman, some wondered if MCC was looking to get Shaktiman married. Was MCC looking for a bride, a ‘Shakti-woman’? Some Mysureans, who are fans of science fiction movies, thought that Shaktiman was a Transformer – a machine that comes alive. They, for a moment, thought we had finally found our ‘Optimus Prime’ of tree pruning and that he would save our heads from murderous branches.  But where is Shaktiman now?

It seems Shaktiman has not disappeared, he is quietly being deployed in certain areas because he is the only one MCC has.

Interestingly, in 2021, it was lying idle and was gathering dust in MCC due to non-maintenance. However, after the public outcry, it was put to use.

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May be the MCC must procure more Shaktimans considering the old ladder-laden vehicles have been deemed unfit.

While we wait for trees to be pruned, let’s hope the administration ensures it’s done safely without causing too much inconvenience to the public. 

I say this because unprofessional tree-cutting led to the death of a young woman. In 2011, Prarthana and her family were on their way to Ooty for a holiday. They were stopped near Gundlupet and asked to wait as a huge banyan tree was being cut for road widening.

The unscientific tree-cutting method resulted in the massive tree crashing on Prarthana’s car. She lost her life. She was just 33, and two children were left without a mother.

Maybe MCC should call for tenders with the condition that tree cutting or road works were  open only to contractors who can do work at night or during the wee hours when the public will not be inconvenienced and exposed to possible danger.

People have to wake up and realise that most officials don’t care about public safety unless there are VIPs involved.

When Barack Obama came to India, officials in Delhi made sure all the trees around Gandhi Museum were trimmed and the coconut trees were rid of all their coconuts. 

When the officer in-charge was asked why the coconuts were being plucked en masse, he said, “Why take a chance?” I guess he was worried if a coconut broke off and fell on Obama or even around him, the officer’s coconut would have been broken.  

Why don’t the officials and administration apply the same safety standards to the commoner? Because we citizens don’t demand it.

Most of us don’t take the trouble to call our local Corporator or MCC to fix things. Instead, we wait for some NGO to do that for us. 

If we keep waiting, branches will keep snapping and our heads will keep breaking.

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