The one-man probe panel of Justice (retired) Jitendra Chauhan on Monday submitted its report indicting the engineering department of the Chandigarh administration for the July 8, 2022, heritage tree collapse at Carmel Convent School in which one student was killed, and several others injured.
The report, which was submitted after nearly seven months, gave a clean chit to Carmel Convent School in the incident.
On July 8, 2022, a 16-year-old Class 10 student, Heerakshi, of Carmel Convent School, Chandigarh, was crushed to death as a portion of a 250-year-old heritage peepal tree collapsed on her. A total of 18 of her school mates were injured, with one student even losing her arm in the incident.
Following the incident, Chandigarh administration had constituted a one-member inquiry committee, headed by Justice (retired) Jitendra Chauhan to ascertain facts and fix responsibility.
Justice Chauhan’s report submitted on Monday mentions, “The school authorities cannot be held guilty of any negligence or cannot be termed as facilitator of the occurrence. This tragedy has happened due to lapses by the Engineering Department, Chandigarh Administration as the officials did not visit the spot and did not devise the specific protocol to keep such trees in good health and to accord specialized treatment if any, available to strengthen the tree.”
Chandigarh Adviser, Dharam Pal, told The Indian Express on Monday that the report had been submitted to the administration. “ I have gone through the entire report. We will examine it as far as responsibility is to be fixed. We have already taken remedial measures as suggested to prevent such incidents in the future.”
In his detailed report, Justice Chauhan has mentioned various aspects of the incident, including excerpts of statements, during his interaction with various students, teachers and officers of the UT administration.
Justice Chauhan in his report mentions, “ The Peepal tree that fell was not in its ripe age, that being so, it emerges that despite being in its youth, being diseased the tree collapsed, as it could not sustain its weight and fell. The custodian of the tree (school authorities) being layman and not expert, it is not expected from them that they could fathom the consequences of retaining such mature tree on the school premises.
So, it is for the department to educate and guide such custodian as to how the whole process of conservation is to be carried out and thus there should have been clear guidelines in this regard.”
Justice Chauhan also quoted in his report observations made by a team of experts from the Forest Research Institute (FRI).
“The report prepared by the team of experts of FRI mentions that a fungal attack on the main trunk which affected heart wood of the tree that provides mechanical strength to the tree. As a result, such trees can collapse due to any storm, heavy wind or by the self-weight of the canopy. Since the sapwood of tree trunk remains unaffected, hence canopy of the tree remains green and from outer appearance it is difficult to assess health of the tree.”
After receiving the report, the UT administration in an official statement said, “The administration is of the opinion that in absence of any clearcut guidelines, the officials of the engineering department were not authorised to enter the premises of the private institutions in whose premises the tree was standing.”
Remedial measures suggested
Justice Chauhan has further suggested a few remedial measures and suggestions like creation of a Green Brigade, associating members of the Residents Welfare Societies, ultrasonic evaluation of the very mature trees, extensive survey of all dead & dry trees, creating a single window system to process the tree felling application with faster delivery for the trees posing danger to life and property, regular inspection of heritage trees, phasing out of Eucalyptus trees etc.
Already taken action to streamline tree procedure: UT administration
In response to the suggestions/remedial action suggested, the administration said that “they have already taken action.” “A single window has already been created for applying for tree felling permission. All the dead/dry trees to be promptly removed within 48 hours.”