Bombay HC: Will civic chiefs search recommendation earlier than felling bushes?

MUMBAI: The on Monday asked Mumbai and Thane commissioners whether they are willing to take the help of experts before permitting felling of trees.
A bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla heard petitions challenging amendment to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, which empowers the municipal commissioner to sanction felling of up to 25 trees. Beyond 25, the matter would go before the tree authority. On February 21, in an interim direction, the commissioner was restrained from permitting felling of trees, except in extreme emergency where it may endanger life and property.

The judges also asked if the will publish their decision “in some form” and not act upon it for a while so that citizens can challenge it. “Today, the commissioner grants permission. A citizen gets up and sees trees being destroyed. If you are felling trees by the side of the road, residents have a right to challenge it,” said Justice Oka.

Sonal, advocate for Mumbai-based activist Zoru Bhathena, urged for a stay to the amendment, saying it does not provide for appeal, review or tabling of the decision before the civic general body or a buffer period of 15 days as applicable to a tree authority decision. Senior advocate Gayatri Singh for activist Rohit Joshi, who had challenged the improper constitution of the Thane tree authority, said it gives the commissioner “unfettered power”. The judges took note that despite the commissioner’s statement, the tree authority in Thane is not yet dissolved. “Today, there is a deadlock. The tree authority cannot function but it exists,” said Justice Oka.

When told that there are no rules on how the commissioner must function, the judges asked, “Will he take help of experts? How will he take a decision? Once a tree is cut, it is dead and gone,” said Justice Oka. The BMC and the TMC’s advocates have been told to respond on Tuesday.

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