The Bombay High Court on Thursday issued notices to the state government and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), asking them to file their replies to a petition challenging the amendments to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Tree Act, 1975, made in January this year. The amendments empower the municipal commissioner to exercise the functions and powers of the Tree Authority if the number of trees proposed to be felled are 25 or less.
Responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) against the amendments, filed by petitioner Vikram Wadkar, the High Court bench of Justice R G Ketkar and Justice Shantanu Kemkar issued notices to the principal secretary of the state Urban Development Department as well as the PMC Commissioner, directing them to file their replies by January 23.
The petitioner had raised various objections to the amendments, saying it went against the basic objective of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Tree Act, 1975.
In his PIL, Wadkar said the Act was meant to protect and preserve trees in urban areas, “not to grant uncontrolled permission to cut trees under the guise of ease of doing business”.
Advocate Asim Sarode, who represented the petitioner, told the court that the amendments gave municipal commissioners “uncontrolled powers” to take their own decisions, and it would also “lead to corrupt practices and increase non-transparency in environmental issues”.
He said that the state Urban Development Department, “in defiance of law and to bypass the provisions of the Trees Act” , had issued directives in July this year, giving “uncontrolled powers” to the municipal commissioner, chief officer and chief executive officer to take their own decisions, if the number of trees proposed to be felled was 25 or less.
It seemed that the amendments were made “only to protect the interest of business proponents and industries,”, said Sarode, pointing out that the Tree Authority functions within city limits, comprising mainly residential areas, and introducing such amendments “under the pretext of protecting industrial interests was bad-in-law”.
The petition stated that “urban forestry” needed to be “planned, integrated and systematic, and major legal control was necessary for its effectiveness.”
Without green spaces in urban areas, a sustainable city couldn’t be designed, so cutting down 25 trees without any transparency in the decision-making process could create a threat to human health in such areas, stated the PIL.