Civic chiefs can continue to give tree-cutting nod, but with riders: Bombay high court | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Civic chiefs can continue to give tree-cutting nod, but with riders: Bombay high court

Bombay high court says provision to allow felling of up to 25 trees can be exercised only in exceptional, emergency cases

mumbai Updated: Apr 24, 2018 11:06 IST
Kanchan Chaudhari
Residents protest against trees being cut for the Metro-3 project near Churchgate in Mumbai.
Residents protest against trees being cut for the Metro-3 project near Churchgate in Mumbai. (HT FILE)

The Bombay high court on Monday refused to stay the legal provision that empowered civic chiefs to allow removal of up to 25 trees.

To prevent misuse of the statutory power, the court said that it can be exercised only in exceptional and emergency situations.

A bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Riyaz Chagla said municipal commissioners and chief officers of municipal councils cannot exercise the power conferred by Section 8(6) of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation and Protection of Trees Act, 1975, in a routine manner. The section confers special power on the municipal commissioners and chief officers of municipal councils to allow removal, felling or transplanting up to 25 trees.

“It is obvious that the municipal commissioners cannot exercise the power so as to substitute for the Tree Authority,” said the bench. “It is also obvious that the municipal commissioners will ensure that Section 8(6) has not been brought on the statute book to circumvent the Tree Authority,” it added.

The bench said the civic chiefs will have to consult horticulturists and seek advice of in-house experts available with their respective municipalities before dealing with applications under Section 8(6).

It also directed that the orders passed by municipal commissioners granting permission to cut or remove less than 25 trees will be implemented after three weeks of municipal corporations uploading it on their website. This will enable any citizen to challenge it.

The court was hearing a plea filed by city activist Zoru Bhathena, challenging constitutional validity of Section 8(6) on various grounds. Though the court found substance in his contentions, it refused to stay the implementation of the legal provision primarily in view of the state government’s willingness to accept safeguards imposed by the court to prevent misuse of the statutory power.

The bench also found substance in Bhathena’s complaint that tree-cutting proposals were being split by limiting number of trees to be cut to 25 to ensure that such proposals go for clearing to the municipal commissioner alone instead of the multi-member Tree Authority.

The bench disapproved the modus and directed that civic chiefs cannot deal with more than one proposal concerning the same plot of land. It clarified that in case of large public projects such as metro rail, proposals can be considered section-wise – one proposal per section.