Citizens hold a protest march at Aarey Milk Colony on Saturday against the decision to cut trees for the Metro-3 project.(HT Photo)
Citizens hold a protest march at Aarey Milk Colony on Saturday against the decision to cut trees for the Metro-3 project.(HT Photo)

Aarey tree cutting row: BMC tree panel split wide open; 2 experts resign

The panel had given its nod for felling 2,646 trees – 2,185 to be cut and 461 to be transplanted – in a meeting on Thursday, when of the 18 members, eight voted for the proposal, six voted against it, two abstained and two were absent.
Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By Badri Chatterjee
UPDATED ON SEP 01, 2019 03:44 AM IST

Two experts from the civic body’s 18-member tree authority resigned on Saturday, as the row over the panel’s approval to cut 2,185 trees at Aarey Colony for constructing the Metro-3 car shed further escalated.

The tree authority comprises five external experts and corporators from the BJP (4), Shiv Sena (6), Congress (2) and NCP (1).

The panel had given its nod for felling 2,646 trees – 2,185 to be cut and 461 to be transplanted – in a meeting on Thursday, when of the 18 members, eight voted for the proposal, six voted against it, two abstained and two were absent.

However, on Friday, two of the three experts, who had voted in favour of cutting the trees, said they were not aware that their vote was for approving the proposal. The remaining two experts were not present at the meeting.

While Shashirekha Sureshkumar, associate professor and head of department of botany, Mithibai College, said the process to approve tree felling was wrong and she was confused about the meeting’s proceedings as they happened in Marathi, Chandrakant Salunkhe, scientist from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said the entire process was rushed. Both said they had sent their resignations to the BMC’s garden superintendent, other officers, and committee members on Saturday morning.

HT has a copy of Sureshkumar’s resignation while Salunkhe refused to share a copy of his letter. “Since the time of my nomination to the committee, no due process has been followed for the assessment of the site and decisions have been taken in haste. As an expert, I have been allowed to visit some limited portions of the site in question, only twice, which is not sufficient time to make a decision regarding such an issue,” read Sureshkumar’s resignation letter.

“Most of our recommendations on the issue have not been considered by the committee while making the decision. I wish to clearly and strongly state that I have never recommended the felling of 2,700 trees and I do not endorse the decision in any way.”

Salunkhe, meanwhile, said the only way left for them to redeem themselves of accusations (of bribery by political parties) was to resign. “In our report, nowhere is it mentioned that we are supporting tree cutting. The project happening or not is not our purview; our expertise is towards how best we can maintain the green cover and that is our mandate. The entire voting process was politically charged, and we cannot handle such a situation. We are academic and scientific people who do not need to spend time in this toxic environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, another expert member Subhash Patne, BSC in agriculture, who said he was satisfied with Thursday’s voting process, said he will be filing a case against Shiv Sena members who alleged expert members were bribed into voting for tree felling.

The two expert members who were not present at the meeting were Manohar Sawant, PhD physical chemistry, and Deepak Apte, director, Bombay Natural History Society.

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