HC refuses to allow BMC’s tree authority to resume work

In an embarrassment for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Bombay high court on Monday refused to allow its tree authority to resume functioning. This development is likely to delay several projects for which trees are required to be cut, including the proposed Metro car shed at Aarey Colony, and in urban areas.

Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, the high court had in October 2018 held that the nomination of independent experts on tree authorities is mandatory and restrained BMC’s tree authority from functioning, without having an adequate number of independent experts nominated to it.

Recently, the BMC filed an application in the pending PIL, seeking the permission to allow its tree authority to resume functioning. The civic body pointed out that after the October 2018 order, it invited applications for nominating independent experts on its tree authority and received 37 applications in response to the advertisement.

The BMC’s scrutiny committee, however, found only five of the 37 applicants suitable for appointment and eventually on April 1, nominated four of them to the tree authority. The civic body then sought permission to allow its tree authority to resume functioning, claiming that it had complied with the October 2018 order.

Bhathena, however, opposed the plea, questioning not only the qualifications of the four experts, but also contending that the number of independent experts on the tree authority must be equal to the number of councillors nominated on it.

His lawyer pointed out four high court orders, holding that the tree authority must have equal number of elected councillors and independent experts.

A vacation bench of justices Sandip Shinde and Sarang Kotwal accepted the argument. The judges said they were bound by the law laid down by the high court and asked BMC to consider either decreasing the number of councillors (14) or increasing the number of experts (4) on its tree authority so as to bring number in both categories at par.

The court has now posted the PIL for further hearing on Wednesday, when the civic body is supposed to covey its decision in this regard. Bhathena filed the PIL, challenging the validity of a 2017 amendment to the Maharashra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act that conferred special power upon the municipal commissioner to decide proposals seeking permission to remove, fell or transplant up to 25 trees. He has also challenged the number of such proposals, allowing the cutting of a large number of trees along the roads in Mumbai.

First Published:
May 21, 2019 00:38 IST

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