Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday asked the Mumbai and Thane civic bodies and also the Maharashtra government to clarify their stand on the powers of municipal commissioners for permitting to cut trees. The HC has asked the authorities to spell out if they would subject the civic chief ’s decision to an expert opinion or not.
A division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla also asked the authorities to clarify if they would introduce a mechanism with the help of which the general public would be kept in well informed of the decision of civic chief to cut the trees.
The judges were seized with petitions challenging the powers of the Municipal Commissioner conferred by the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act. The Act empowers a civic chief to sanction cutting of trees less than 25 in number. If there are more than 25 trees to be chopped down, the matter is dealt upon by a Tree Authority.
The petition filed by activist Zoru Bathena challenged the ‘powers’ of the civic chief claiming it to be ‘arbitrary and unconstitutional.’ Advocate Sonal appearing for Bathena told the judges that the decision of the civic chief is not informed to the general public and it is known only once it is executed .i.e. the trees are cut. She also apprised the judges of the fact that the decision of the civic chief was not open to any public objection or suggestion.
Having heard the submissions, Justice Oka said, “We want to know from the authorities as to how the commissioner would exercise this power? We want to know if the civic chief would consider an expert opinion before sanctioning the cutting of trees given the fact that he himself is not an expert in this field.”
“Also considering the nature of powers we are of the opinion that the general public is not given any say in the decision of the commissioner to cut trees. There is no buffer time granted to any aggrieved person who desires to challenge the orders for cutting trees since once the commissioner arrives at a decision the trees are cut the very next day. There is no application of mind here since one a tree is cut it is dead and gone,” Justice Oka observed.
Posting the matter for further hearing on Tuesday, Justice Oka has asked the authorities to spell out if they would allow publishing of the decisions of the civic chief to chop down trees.