The Bombay High Court on Monday refused to grant an interim stay on a recent amendment that allowed chiefs of civic bodies in Maharashtra to decide applications seeking felling of trees below 25 in number, but said the powers should not be “misused” and must not be used in a routine manner.
As per a recent amendment to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, any proposal to cut trees below 25 in number can be placed before the concerned civic body commissioner. Proposals for cutting more than 25 trees would be sent to the Tree Authority of that particular civic body. A division bench of Justices A S Oka and Riyaz Chagla was hearing a petition filed by an activist, Zoru Bhathena, challenging validity of the amendment–section 8(6)–and sought an interim stay on implementation of this section.
The HC observed that while prima facie it found merit in the challenge to section 8(6) of the Act, it would not be feasible to grant an interim stay practically. “…However, the commissioners will have to ensure that the powers are not misused and should be exercised only in emergency or exceptional cases. The commissioner should not exercise his powers in a routine manner,” the bench said. It added that the commissioners shall take opinion of experts before taking decision on applications seeking permission to cut trees and that the commissioner concerned will have to record the names of these experts in the order.
The decision of the commissioner would have to be published on the civic body’s website and a public notice giving description of the property shall be published in newspapers. “The decision shall not be implemented for a period of three weeks from publishing the order on the website. This will give citizens an opportunity to challenge the order,” the bench said. This three-week period would not apply to cases where the commissioner has observed in his order that the tree, if not cut, would pose a threat to life or property, the high court said.
The judges also held that the Thane civic body’s Tree Authority was set up in an illegal manner and without proper application of mind. “We accept the Thane civic body chief’s statement that the tree authority has been dissolved. We direct him commissioner to raise the issue of reconstituting the tree authority before the corporation’s general body,” the court said.