THE PUNE bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said that the affidavit submitted by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (MSRDCL) contains “false” information about the 188 trees affected during the National Highway (NH)-4 road widening project.
The Tribunal has also noted “lack of guidelines” on ownership of the land. “Multiple government agencies are operating simultaneously, making it unclear as to which one should award the permission in such cases,” it noted.
The NGT orders given on December 6 read, “The MSRDCL, intentionally, gave false evidence by way of the said (submitted) affidavits dated July 15 and August 1,2017. The assessment and identification of the trees showed that they could be saved, yet they were cut. This is sufficient to initiate prosecution under Section 193 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.”
In this affidavit, the MSRDCL had listed a total of 188 trees, which would be affected at the time of road widening of NH-4, a 4-km stretch between Dehu Road and Nigdi. It stated that 45 trees could possibly be saved, while 99 trees needed to felled. The possibility of transplanting 26 trees was considered, while 18 tree stumps would be transplanted at the identified location.
Advocate Asim Sarode said, “In this case, the MSRDCL took undue advantage of the absence of guidelines and went ahead to cut the trees. But, since very little can be done now, the need for framing appropriate guidelines is necessary.”
In April this year, the NGT had urged MSRDCL to consult with tree experts before undertaking the tree felling exercise. “It is necessary to go through the genesis of the trees, for which experts from the College of Agriculture could be approached,” it said.
After the college did not respond, the MSRDCL approached the Chief Garden Superintendent at the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), whose technical team carried out a survey at the road stretch and gave recommendations.
However, it came to light that the trees, which were supposed to be saved, were chopped. This, the Tribunal noted, was against the affidavit submitted. The state officials, too, admitted to the act.
Meanwhile, the MSRDCL has sought for more time to furnish details of the trees that have been transplanted, their location and the count, which still remain unknown, until the case is next heard on January 18, 2018. The case is unique since there is no known owner to the stretch of the land, which lies within the Dehu Road Cantonment Board (DCB), despite which it has no power to grant permission in the matter.
Shrikant Jogdand, president, the Human Rights Protection and Awareness Group, Pimpri-Chinchwad, said, “Since the court has directed criminal proceedings, we are considering taking up the matter in the High Court in due course of time. We are not against road development projects, but it is equally important to know the fate of the trees that get transplanted and who will be responsible for their maintenance.”