In a significant development, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued a directive to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), instructing them to halt the cutting down of trees for the Mula-Mutha River Front Development (RFD) project. The directive came during the hearing of OA 80 of 2023, filed by Sarang Yadwadkar and Pushkar Kulkarni before the NGT.
During the proceedings, the NGT expressed strong displeasure with the PMC, questioning their actions in light of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and the Environmental Clearance, both of which explicitly stated that no trees should be cut for the RFD project. The tribunal reprimanded the Pune civic body for recent tree destruction, including cutting and burying them, and emphasized the importance of preserving the city's trees.
Significant win for Punekars
The directive from the NGT is considered a significant win for Punekars who have been protesting against the PMC's tree-cutting actions. In April, thousands of Punekars participated in a Chipko Andolan to voice their opposition.
The River Front Development project aims to transform Pune's riverfront areas into public spaces, improving recreational offerings. However, it has faced criticism for involving the cutting down of thousands of trees, including rare and old trees, along a one-kilometre stretch of the riverbank. Concerns have been raised about the environmental impact, particularly the loss of trees and disruption to natural habitats.
The PMC refuted claims of cutting old and rare trees, stating that more than 65,000 trees would be planted to compensate for any tree removal. However, the NGT firmly directed the PMC to halt all tree felling for the RFD project until all necessary permissions are obtained. The tribunal also emphasized the need for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and public participation in decision-making processes.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the project in March 2022, it faced delays due to petitions. Recently, the Supreme Court gave the green signal for the civic body to proceed with the river-front development.
The protesters, under the banner of Save Mula-Mutha, have been demanding the cleaning of the river instead of beautification. Last month, 11 environmental experts returned their 'Paryavaran Doot' environment ambassador awards given by the PMC in protest, citing massive destruction of greenery during the implementation of the RFD project.
Advocate Rahul Garg, Superintending Engineer Yuvraj Desmukh, and Garden Superintendent Gorpade represented the PMC during the hearing. The applicants were represented by Advocate Ritwick Dutta from the Law Institute for Forest and Environment (LIFE) based in Delhi.
The PMC will be required to comply with the NGT's order, ensuring the protection of trees and natural resources. The NGT also called for increased transparency and accountability in the execution of the River Front Development project, urging PMC to prioritize sustainable practices and explore alternative approaches to minimize ecological impact.
The NGT's decision has been widely welcomed by environmental activists and concerned citizens, emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between development and environmental preservation for the long-term well-being of Pune and its residents.