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Metro work at Aarey delayed after Bombay HC’s no-go to tree panel

MMRCL recommends forest conservation officials as experts on panel; HC rejects

mumbai Updated: May 23, 2019 01:03 IST
Kanchan Chaudhari
Kanchan Chaudhari
Hindustan Times
Mumbai
On October 24, 2018, HC had restrained BMC’s tree authority from deciding on any tree cutting proposals without appointing adequate number of independent experts.(HT FILE)

Work on the car shed for Metro-3 at Aarey Colony is likely to be delayed further, after the Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday deferred a plea, filed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), seeking permission for its tree authority to resume functioning till June 3.

On October 24, 2018, HC had restrained BMC’s tree authority from deciding on any tree cutting proposals without appointing adequate number of independent experts, as prescribed under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1971. Recently, the BMC filed a plea in HC asking for the restriction to be lifted, claiming that it had invited applications after the October 2018 order. BMC said of the 37 applications it received, it had found five suitable candidates and appointed four of them.

However, city environmentalist Zoru Bhatena had raised an objection to BMC’s plea, stating that the appointed experts were not enough. Bhatena’s lawyer pointed to previous HC orders mandating equal number of elected councillors and independent experts on the tree authority.

When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, additional government pleader GW Mattos, representing Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited requested the bench to direct BMC to consider nominating forest conservation and social forestry officials as experts.

The vacation bench of justices Sandip Shinde and Sarang Kotwal was inclined to accept the plea and also asked BMC counsel, advocate Rajesh Patil, to consider nominating the government officials. They, however, rejected the plea after noticing that section 3(3) of the 1971 Act states “representatives of non-official organisations” and government officials could not be nominated as independent experts on the body.

After Patil maintained that BMC has followed the HC mandate by appointing four experts, the bench posted the matter for further hearing on June 3. However, the judges wondered why the BMC was averse to appointing more experts on the panel.

“What is the propriety in having independent experts on the body, if their views were not to be taken into consideration? If all four experts are of the opinion that trees are not required to be cut, the combined strength of elected councillors can easily outweigh them,” the bench noted.

First Published: May 23, 2019 01:03 IST