Authority cannot function without independent experts: Court
Mumbai: The Tree Authority (TA) of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) cannot function without appointing independent experts, ruled the Bombay high court on Wednesday. The high court also clarified that without the appointment of non-government officials that have expertise in protection and preservation of trees, no further permissions can be granted by the present tree authority in tree-cutting proposals.
A division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice M.S. Sonak upheld the orders that were passed in the case of Tree Authority of Pune Municipal Corporation and Thane Municipal Corporation which mandated that seven official civic members along with seven independent experts in the tree authority.
The Asian Age had earlier reported in September that activists had claimed that the civic body’s Tree Authority remains illegally constituted with 13 corporators but no independent experts on the committee, which is a violation of Bombay high court’s order this year.
Meanwhile the high court order of April 2018 entailed that the Tree Authority cannot give permission to cut trees until it is formed according to the guidelines of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act 1975, which must include independent experts.
The BMC had asserted in the high court that in section 3(3) of the Tree Act, it is stated that every tree authority ‘may’ nominate representatives of non-official organisations, which does not make it mandatory for their inclusion and is a directory provision. However, the court observed that the stated section of the Tree Act means that it is needed of the Tree Authority to have experts in the committee.
“We welcome the high court’s order which may help in proper functioning of the Tree Authority. As of now, the Tree Authority cannot give further permissions for tree-cutting until it constitutes a new committee as per the high cout directions. We can also challenge any tree-cutting for which the permissions were given by the present TA after the high court order of April,” said Zoru Bhathena, petitioner of the PIL.
The court also directed that after the re-constitution of the Tree Authority, it has to submit an application to the high court seeking permission to function.