The Bombay High Court, on May 15, 2019, refused the BMC’s plea to vacate a stay imposed on the working of Mumbai civic body’s Tree Authority, which has the power to approve cutting of trees for development projects or repair and upgradation work. A vacation bench of justices AS Gadkari and NJ Jamadar, however, refused to restrain the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) from cutting trees in Aarey area, for the proposed Mumbai Metro car shed and some allied works.
The bench was hearing applications filed by the Mumbai Metro Corporation Limited, the BMC and environmental activist Zoru Bhatena, seeking various reliefs related to the Tree Authority. On October 24, 2018, a regular bench of the high court restrained the Tree Authority from taking any decision on the application to cut trees, until it had independent experts as nominated members. Till then, the municipal commissioner would tackle emergent situations, the court said. The order followed Bhatena’s plea, pointing that the Tree Authority for Mumbai comprised municipal councillors and no independent experts.
On May 15, 2019, the BMC submitted that it had chosen four independent experts, to be part of the Tree Authority. It, therefore, requested the court to permit the Tree Authority to start functioning. The civic body said it had several pending projects, pertaining to felling of trees ahead of the monsoon, but they were being delayed due to the stay imposed by the court in October 2018.
Bhatena opposed the BMC’s arguments, saying the present Tree Authority had 15 councillors or corporators and just four expert members. He argued that the BMC must include an equal number of experts as councillors, to ensure that permissions for felling trees were not granted indiscriminately. The high court is likely to hear the matter in detail on May 20, 2019.
HC raps BMC over blanket nod to agencies, to trim trees
The Bombay High Court has directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to reconsider the blanket permission granted by it, to some private and public agencies, to trim trees on their premises
June 20, 2018: A Bombay High Court bench of justices AS Oka and RI Chagla, on June 19, 2018, sought to know from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), on what basis the civic body had granted a blanket permission to some private and public agencies, to trim trees, without any condition for determining whether these agencies were adhering to the provisions of the Trees Act and the BMC’s own rules. The bench was hearing an application filed by city-based activist Zoru Bhatena, challenging BMC’s decision to allow some public and private agencies like Tata Power, Reliance Energy, the Railways and the Airports Authority of India, to trim trees on their premises for the next three years.
The corporation told the bench that it was within its powers to grant such permission, since it was not for felling of any trees but for trimming and pruning that was essential for the maintenance of the trees. The BMC’s counsel, advocate Anil Sakhre, argued that under Section 383 of the Municipal Act, the corporation had the power to allow trimming and pruning of trees for their maintenance, or in cases where the trees had some overgrown or damaged branches, posing a danger to one’s life or property. The bench, however, said that even Section 383 mandated that such permission could be granted to private persons or bodies, only after the civic commissioner was convinced that the trees on the respective person’s property required trimming. “The Act does not talk of such blanket permission, without any application of mind by the civic body. Who is to determine whether the trees that such bodies are trimming, actually require to be touched? What if, in the name of trimming, they cut 90 of the 100 branches and virtually kill the tree? That will be in contravention of the Trees Act,” the bench said. “This will have to be reconsidered by BMC,” it said.
The court also directed the petitioner to amend its plea and make the agencies that have been granted such permission, a party to the plea. The BMC, meanwhile, will file a rejoinder, justifying the permission granted.