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Monday, Dec 16, 2019

Nothing wrong with tree authority: Bombay high court

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday approved the composition of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority, which currently comprises 15 elected corporators and five independent experts

mumbai Updated: Jul 20, 2019 01:33 IST
Kanchan Chaudhari
Kanchan Chaudhari
Hindustan Times
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Nitin Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, which contended the tree authority was not properly constituted as it did not have an equal number of independent experts and elected corporators
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Nitin Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, which contended the tree authority was not properly constituted as it did not have an equal number of independent experts and elected corporators
         

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday approved the composition of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority, which currently comprises 15 elected corporators and five independent experts. The court found the authority fit to discharge its duties under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975. Among the projects that have been held up by the absence of the tree authority is the Metro car shed at Aarey Colony.

A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and justice Nitin Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by activist Zoru Bhathena, which contended the tree authority was not properly constituted as it did not have an equal number of independent experts and elected corporators. The HC said the existing ratio of expert members (five) to elected corporators (15) was not “ex-facie absurd” and that the tree authority can discharge its duties.

Civic chief Praveen Pardeshi said, “Even though it means the tree authority will function again, it does not mean suddenly the BMC is going to start cutting more trees around the city.”

“A lot of development projects that are stuck will get impetus. We have four experts on the tree authority already,” he added.

Bhathena’s advocate Sonal had argued that section 3(3) of the Trees Act can be interpreted to mean that the number of nominated experts and corporators should be equal. However, the bench rejected this contention. “A plain reading of sub-section 3 shows that the number of nominated members (independent experts) cannot exceed the number of members appointed under sub-section 1 (elected corporators) and by no means can the words ‘not exceeding’ be replaced with ‘be equal to’,” said the court.

The bench also rejected the argument advanced by the petitioner that since the rules provide for casting vote by chairman in case of a tie, the tree authority must have equal representation for citizens. “Inclusion of expert members on the tree authority is not for a tug of war between the corporators and expert members,” said the bench. Expert members are expected to add their expertise and experience to make the tree authority function better, rather than to increase voting powers, said the court.

The BMC’s tree authority has been dysfunctional since October 2018, when another bench of the HC held that independent experts must be appointed to the tree authority and until experts were appointed, the authority should not decide on tree-felling proposals.