The Bombay High Court asked the Mumbai and Thane civic bodies to explain if their municipal commissioners take expert opinion before passing orders to fell trees.
As per a recent amendment to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, any proposal to cut up to 25 trees can be placed before the commissioner of the civic body concerned while the proposals to cut more than 25 trees have to be sent to the Tree Authority set up under the Act.
A division bench of Justices A S Oka and Riyaz Chagla posed the question to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) while hearing a petition by social activist Zoru Bhathena.
Bhathena activist has challenged the validity of the amendment to the Act that conferred special power upon the municipal commissioner to decide on the proposals to remove, fell or transplant up to 25 trees.
“How will the commissioner exercise this power? Will he take expert opinion? The commissioner himself is not an expert on this issue… then how does he arrive at a decision as to which tree has to be removed, cut or transplanted?” Justice Oka asked.
The bench also asked whether the commissioners would publish their decision so that an aggrieved party could challenge it.
“As per the amendment, if the commissioner passes an order to fell a tree today, the tree could be cut the next day. There is no buffer time for a person aggrieved by the order to challenge the order,” the court said on Monday.
“Once a tree is cut, it is dead and gone. Hence, there has to be application of mind before passing orders,” Justice Oka said.
Are the civic bodies ready to make a statement that the commissioners’ decision would be published and a buffer time given to enable people to challenge their order, he asked.
The bench posted the petition for further hearing on Tuesday by when the civic bodies have to reply to the court’s queries.
The petition had pointed out that that tree-cutting proposals were being split as the Tree Authority looks only into those proposals that concern more than 25 trees.
According to the petition, in January itself, 49 proposals for cutting 806 trees were submitted to the civic commissioner of Mumbai.