Amid protest from residents and activists after the proposal of felling and transplanting over 2,600 trees at Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon East was passed, two of the five independent experts on the Tree Authority committee resigned on Saturday. Dr Shashirekha Suresh Kumar and Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe, who had voted in favour of the proposal, tendered their resignations to the civic body.
Stating that she did not endorse the decision of cutting the trees, Kumar alleged that the due process was not followed for the assessment of the site in Aarey Colony.
Kumar said in a statement: “It is rather distressing to know that my fellow tree experts and I are being accused of allowing trees to be cut for the Aarey Metro 3 carshed. Being a Botany teacher and a nature lover, there could be nothing farther from the truth. I would never say that. Since the time of my nomination to the committee, no due process has been followed for the assessment of the site and the decision was taken in haste.”
A PhD in Botany and professor at Mithibai College with over 30 years of experience, Kumar was appointed in the Tree Authority committee member in April following a Bombay High Court order. Kumar is also associated with the National Society of Friends of Trees (NSFOT) and the Bombay Natural History Society. “As an expert, I have been allowed to visit some limited portions of the site in question, only twice. It is not a sufficient time to make a decision regarding such an issue. My co-experts and I had also pointed out some discrepancies in the inventory provided to us in a report submitted to the Municipal Secretary, MCGM Mumbai on August 13. Most of our recommendations on the issue have not been considered by the Committee while making the decision,” Kumar said.
She added, “I wish to strongly state that I have never recommended the felling of nearly 2,700 trees and I don’t endorse the decision in any way. I have decided, with great regret, to resign from the committee as an expert member by rendering my resignation to MCGM.”
On Thursday, while two experts — Dr Deepak Apte and Manohar Sawant — were absent from the Tree Authority meeting in which the proposal was passed, three experts – Dr Shashirekha Suresh Kumar, Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe and Subhash Patne – had voted in favour of the proposal to remove 2,646 trees for proposed Metro carshed at Aarey for Metro 3 line.
Soon after the proposal was passed, the members came in for sharp criticism from residents and activists alike for not keeping environmental concerns in mind while deciding on the issue.
The Shiv Sena, which had voted against the proposal, demanded the resignation of experts who voted in favour, alleging they had taken money to support the proposal.
On Saturday late evening, Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe sent his resignation to the civic body. He also said that the proposal was passed in hurry without giving them time to explain. Salunkhe, who is the head of Horticulture department of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and a member of NSFOT, has also expressed displeasure on ill-treatment by political leaders during the meeting.
A senior official from the BMC said, “We have received resignations of both the members and a decision will be taken accordingly. The members were given enough time and had been informed about the tree-cutting proposal before voting. There is no truth in their allegations of not being allowed to speak.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon, Subhas Patne, the third expert to have voted in favour of the proposal, filed a complaint against a Tree Authority member Yashwant Jadhav at Azad Maidan police station. Patne alleged that Jadhav had used abusive language against him during the meeting on Thursday.
“After voting got over, Jadhav abused me for voting for the proposal. I am a non-political person and gave my opinion as an expert. I supported the development since the city needs it,” said Patne.
Jadhav was not available for comment.
Patne has also decided to file a defamation case against Shiv Sena for accusing them of accepting bribe to clear proposal.
“They have maligned my image by accusing me of accepting bribe. This is all false. The allegation has sent a wrong message to my family, friends and colleagues. I have given my expert advice to the committee. I will file a defamation case against the Sena,” Patne told The Sunday Express.