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Bombay High Court poses queries to Mumbai, Thane civic bodies on tree cutting


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Mumbai: The Bombay High Court sought to know today from the civic bodies of Mumbai and adjoining Thane 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 trees below 25 in number can be placed before the commissioner of the civic body concerned.

Proposals to cut trees above 25 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 Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) while hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena.

The activist has challenged the validity of the amendment to the Act that conferred special power upon the municipal commissioner to decide on proposals seeking permission 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 raised queries on whether the commissioners would publish their decision so that an aggrieved person could challenge it.

“As per the amendment, if today commissioner passes an order to fell a tree then the next day the tree could be cut.
There is no buffer time for a person aggrieved by the order to challenge the order,” the court said.
?”Once a tree is cut then 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 is given to enable people to challenge their order, he asked.

The bench posted the petition for further hearing tomorrow by when the civic bodies will have to reply to the court’s queries.

The petition had complained that tree cutting proposals were being split as the Tree Authority only looks into 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.