A division bench of the Bombay High Court, of justices AS Oka and Riyaz Chagla, on April 23, 2018, heard a petition filed by an activist, Zoru Bhathena, challenging validity of an amendment – Section 8(6) – of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act and seeking an interim stay on the implementation of this section. As per the amendment, 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.
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 the opinion of experts, before taking decisions 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 the 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 the commissioner to raise the issue of reconstituting the Tree Authority before the corporation’s general body,” the court said.