"We are pleased that the Bombay High Court has recognised the issue and given a rap on the Pune Municipal Corporation's (PMC) knuckles," said activist Ameet Singh, one of the petitioners who filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court to halt the felling of 192 trees along Ganeshkhind Road. These comments came after the High Court quashed the PMC's approval to cut the trees and directed the civic administration to restart the process of obtaining permissions from various departments, including seeking suggestions and objections from citizens, for tree removal.
NGO Parisar, along with activists Ameet Singh and Hema Chari, filed the PIL in the High Court to halt the tree cutting on Ganeshkhind Road, alleging that the permission was granted in violation of the Maharashtra Tree Act. Reportedly, the PMC's road department applied for permission to cut 105 trees and transplant 87 of them on August 21. Although the PMC issued a public notice, calling for objections until August 18, municipal commissioner Vikram Kumar, who also heads PMC's Tree Authority, sanctioned the tree felling on August 18 itself, without considering the raised objections, in clear violation of the Maharashtra Tree Act and previous HC judgments on the same matter.
The road from the Savitribai Phule Pune University gate to Sancheti Hospital is being expanded from 36 meters to 45 meters due to the construction of the elevated Metro rail and the double-decker flyover.
Following the High Court's verdict, Ameet Singh expressed hope for better judgment in the PMC, which has been acting arbitrarily. "Rampant tree cutting is happening all over the city in complete violation of the law. PMC has become a conveyor belt for chopping trees. They're chopping thousands of trees every month," he said.
Hema Chari questioned the hurried road expansion, particularly the need for a 45-metre-wide road alongside the Metro without provisions for adequate footpaths or cycle tracks. "It will only lead to more traffic, more emissions, and pollution. Cutting the trees will have a double impact on pollution," she said.
According to the petitioners, the Indian Road Congress (IRC) standards for pedestrian and cycle tracks stipulate a 6.5-meter footpath with a clear 2-metre walking zone and a 2.2-metre cycle track on a 45-metre road. The PMC's own Comprehensive Bicycle Plan, approved by the General Body in 2017, calls for a cycle track on Ganeshkhind Road, according to the petitioners.
Ranjit Gadgil, Program Director of Parisar, stated, "We have requested the road design to adhere to mandatory IRC guidelines and the city's Urban Street Design Guidelines, but we've been informed that only a 2.5-metre footpath will be provided. We've raised these issues in the High Court and hope that the PMC will now follow these standards. If they do, very few trees will be affected, as they can be accommodated in the design. Otherwise, we will approach the court again."
What will the PMC do now?
The PMC will now need to follow the due process of the law and consider the objections of the petitioners, who argued that their objections were not taken into account. "The court has prohibited the civic administration from cutting trees until this due process is duly completed. However, it's important to note that the road expansion project itself has not been halted," stated Nisha Chavan, Chief Legal Officer of the PMC.