Will civic chiefs seek pub­lic opin­ion be­fore cut­ting trees? HC asks govt

The Free Press Journal - - MUMBAI - STAFF RE­PORTER /

The Bom­bay High Court on Mon­day asked the Mum­bai and Thane civic bodies and also the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment to clar­ify their stand on the pow­ers of mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sion­ers for per­mit­ting to cut trees. The HC has asked the au­thor­i­ties to spell out if they would sub­ject the civic chief ’s de­ci­sion to an ex­pert opin­ion or not.

A divi­sion bench of Jus­tice Ab­hay Oka and Jus­tice Riyaz Chagla also asked the au­thor­i­ties to clar­ify if they would in­tro­duce a mech­a­nism with the help of which the gen­eral pub­lic would be kept in well in­formed of the de­ci­sion of civic chief to cut the trees.

The judges were seized with pe­ti­tions chal­leng­ing the pow­ers of the Mu­nic­i­pal Com­mis­sioner con­ferred by the Ma­ha­rash­tra (Ur­ban Ar­eas) Pro­tec­tion and Preser­va­tion of Trees Act. The Act em­pow­ers a civic chief to sanc­tion cut­ting of trees less than 25 in num­ber. If there are more than 25 trees to be chopped down, the mat­ter is dealt upon by a Tree Au­thor­ity.

The pe­ti­tion filed by ac­tivist Zoru Ba­thena chal­lenged the ‘pow­ers’ of the civic chief claim­ing it to be ‘ar­bi­trary and un­con­sti­tu­tional.’

Ad­vo­cate Sonal ap­pear­ing for Ba­thena told the judges that the de­ci­sion of the civic chief is not in­formed to the gen­eral pub­lic and it is known only once it is ex­e­cuted .i.e. the trees are cut. She also ap­prised the judges of the fact that the de­ci­sion of the civic chief was not open to any pub­lic ob­jec­tion or sug­ges­tion.

Hav­ing heard the sub­mis­sions, Jus­tice Oka said, “We want to know from the au­thor­i­ties as to how the com­mis­sioner would ex­er­cise this power? We want to know if the civic chief would con­sider an ex­pert opin­ion be­fore sanc­tion­ing the cut­ting of trees given the fact that he him­self is not an ex­pert in this field.”

“Also con­sid­er­ing the na­ture of pow­ers we are of the opin­ion that the gen­eral pub­lic is not given any say in the de­ci­sion of the com­mis­sioner to cut trees. There is no buffer time granted to any ag­grieved per­son who de­sires to chal­lenge the or­ders for cut­ting trees since once the com­mis­sioner ar­rives at a de­ci­sion the trees are cut the very next day. There is no ap­pli­ca­tion of mind here since one a tree is cut it is dead and gone,” Jus­tice Oka ob­served.

Post­ing the mat­ter for fur­ther hear­ing on Tues­day, Jus­tice Oka has asked the au­thor­i­ties to spell out if they would al­low pub­lish­ing of the de­ci­sions of the civic chief to chop down trees.

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