The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) to inform it if the municipal commissioner consults experts before passing orders on tree-felling proposals of up to 25 trees. The court was hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, a resident of Kandivali, regarding protecting, preserving and enhancing trees in the city, in 2015.
The petitioner has challenged the newly-added Section 8 (6) of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees (Amendment) Act, 2016. It delegates the functions and powers of the Tree Authority to the civic chief for tree-felling proposals of 25 trees or less. The act has been challenged stating that the municipal commissioner neither has the time, nor the expertise to attend to issues regarding tree cutting.
A division bench of Justice A S Oka and Justice R I Chagla asked how the municipal commissioner arrives at a decision regarding which trees should be cut. The court asked if the commissioner consults any authority. The court also said that once a tree is cut, there is no remedy. The aggrieved person will only know after they are gone. The court asked what happens once the trees are cut. There should be an application of mind before the orders are passed, the court said.
The court also asked if any buffer time would be given to the aggrieved person after the orders are passed on tree-felling. The court asked the BMC and the TMC to explain whether they will publish their orders and give buffer time to the aggrieved person to appeal against the order. Meanwhile, an affidavit was filed by Jitendra Pardeshi, the superintendent of garden and tree officer, which says that the Tree Authority or the municipal commissioner is guided by an expert of trees who inspects them and submits a report before any decision to cut/ fell/ replant/ retain trees is taken. It further says that according to provisions, every decision taken by the municipal commissioner is placed before the general body. The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.