The Bombay High Court on Friday said the Tree Authority of Mumbai, comprising 15 corporators and five expert members, is proper and not “ex facie absurd”.
A bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice N M Jamdar said, “…we declare that there is a proper constitution of the Tree Authority in the city of Mumbai. The said Authority would henceforth discharge its duties and perform its obligations under the Trees Act.”
“Undoubtedly, plants are an inalienable component of environment. Trees contribute to the environmental balance, particularly in terms of ambient air quality and provide succor and shelter to other living creatures,” said Chief Justice Nandrajog.
The bench passed an order in a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhatena stating that the newly appointed committee to hear the applications for felling of trees is not as per the law laid down by this court. Currently, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has 15 corporators and five experts on the committee of Tree Authority, which according to petitioner is not as per the order of the High Court.
Last year, the High Court had held that there should be equal number of experts and corporators on the Tree Authority to decide the applications for felling of trees.
Advocate Sonal, representing the petitioners, argued that since the rules envisage voting and in case of a tie, a casting vote by the chairman, there must be an equal representation of the representatives of the citizens on the assumption that the corporators would always gang up and overlook the material facts while deciding applications seeking permission to fell trees.
The judges observed, “We, however, in law, cannot proceed on the premise that the corporators, while dealing with issues of conserving the environment by saving trees, would always decide against it. Inclusion of expert members in the Tree Authority is not for a tug of war between the corporators and the expert members.
“The legislative intent of including expert members in the Tree Authority is that the collective decision is enriched by the special knowledge and practical experience of the expert members. Therefore, the functioning of the Tree Authority is to be made more effective not by increasing the voting power of the expert members, but making expert and practical experience of the experts a part of the decision making. The responsibility of the expert members is, therefore, to guide the members of the Tree Authority in taking an informed decision.”
As per the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act 1975, the Tree Authority has corporators or councillors and also experts in the field and the municipal commissioner as the chairman.
The Tree Authority has several duties to perform under the Act, like granting permission to cut the trees, protection and preservation of trees, carrying out a census of the existing trees in all lands within its jurisdiction and replanting of trees.