Still smarting from last year’s controversial decision to fell over 2,000 trees at Aarey Colony to make way for the Metro car shed, the BMC will now continue with only one expert on the Tree Authority. The civic body has not called for fresh applications for appointment of experts on the committee and has no plans to do so as of now.
Within months of their appointment in March 2019 following a High Court order, out of five experts, two quit and two were removed in the aftermath of the committee’s go-ahead on the Aarey tree felling.
The only expert left on the committee is Subhash Patne, a horticulturist, whose term expired in March and then renewed last month for one year.
“At present, there are no plans to call for fresh applications for the post of experts. We will continue with the committee meetings with one expert. The HC order doesn’t mention any minimum number of experts that should be on the committee. It says the experts cannot exceed the number of corporators,” said Jitendra Pardeshi, superintendent of gardens, BMC.
The Tree Authority, set up by the BMC in 1976, “helps in regulating felling of trees and providing for planting adequate number of new trees through garden department”, as per the civic body. Every year, before or on October 31, it must also prepare the budget estimate for the next financial year for final approval by the municipal corporation. It is also supposed to carry out a tree census.
AFTERMATH OF AAREY
The committee, however, is yet to recover from its decision of August 29, 2019, to remove 2,646 trees in Aarey Colony for a car shed for Metro 3. At that contentious meeting, out of its 18 members, 17 were present. While two corporators from the Congress staged a walkout over the vote, two of the five expert members — Deepak Apte and Manohar Sawant — were absent. Of the 13 members of the committee present and voting, six Shiv Sena members voted against the motion. There were seven votes in favour, including by the three remaining experts and the proposal was carried through.
As protests erupted against the decision, two experts — Dr Shashirekha Suresh Kumar and Dr Chandrakant Salunkhe — who were present and had voted in favour of the proposal, resigned from the committee. Kumar also alleged that the due process was not followed for site assessment at Aarey. Apte and Sawant, who were absent during the crucial meeting, were removed from the committee for not attending three consecutive meetings.
Though Kumar, associate professor and head of the department of botany at Mithibai College, and Salunkhe, a scientist at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, later wanted to withdraw their resignations, the BMC said there was no such provision.
WHY EXPERTS ARE IMPORTANT
Tree authority, an autonomous body, regulates the tree felling and transplantation proposals across the city. The Bombay High Court last year approved the committee’s composition — 13 corporators and five experts headed by the municipal commissioner. One year since then, the panel is left with only one expert. The experts, mainly from the field of botany, horticulture or agriculture are expected to weigh in on proposals and provide scientific knowledge required to decide which trees will survive transplantation. Experts in the committee are supposed to provide politically unbiased and scientific opinion on tree felling and transplantation proposals.
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