The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Monday told the Bombay high court that its Tree Authority had been constituted in accordance with the law and, therefore, the civic body was not committing any illegality in granting permission for felling of trees for development projects or other purposes.
In an affidavit submitted by the BMC through its gardens and trees officer Jitendra Pardeshi before a bench led by justice Shantanu Kemkar, the civic body defended the constitution of the authority and its functions.
In the affidavit, the BMC denied allegations that the authority was granting permission for indiscriminate felling of trees without any application of mind.
It said the Tree Authority comprises 13 corporators who scrutinise each application seeking permission for felling of trees.
The authority then issues a public notice and invites suggestions and objections from members of the public, checks the claims made by the applicants, and only then, grants the requisite permission, the BMC said in its affidavit.
The affidavit was filed in compliance with a previous order of the court over a Public Interest litigation (PIL) seeking that the Tree Authority be restrained from granting permission for felling of trees at it had not been constituted in accordance with the law.
The PIL, filed by activist Zoru Bhatena, had claimed that the authority did not have independent experts, and that corporators alone did not have the expertise to allow or disallow felling of trees.
The BMC said in the affidavit that the corporators in the Tree Authority had enough expertise to discharge their duties in accordance with the law.
In April this year, a bench led by justice AS Oka had restrained the authorities in Mumbai and Thane from granting any permission for felling of trees unless their respective Tree Authorities were reconstituted in accordance with the provisions of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act.
Bhatena pointed out that despite the orders of the HC, the BMC’s Tree Authority had been granting permissions to cut trees in the city. The BMC, however, submitted that the Trees Act granted the civic body discretionary powers.
“The Act says we may have independent experts as part of the Authority, but imposes no compulsion,” the BMC said.
The civic body added that in 2017, it had written to the state’s forest department seeking names of independent experts and NGOs to include them in the Tree Authority but they had failed to get any recommendations from the state.