The Bombay High Court Wednesday restrained the BMC's tree authority from granting permission for cutting of trees, and observed that appointment of independent experts on a civic body's tree authority panel is mandated as per law and is not an "option". A division bench of Justices A S Oka and M S Sonak said the tree authority of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) shall not take decisions on applications seeking permission to cut trees. The court, however, allowed BMC commissioner to grant permission to cut trees in emergency situations where they posed a threat to property or public. The high court passed the order while hearing an application filed by activist Zoru Bathena, seeking that the tree authority be restrained from granting permissions for cutting trees anywhere in the city since it had not been constituted in accordance with the law.
According to the application, the authority did not have any independent experts, and corporators who were members of the panel did not have the expertise to allow or disallow felling of trees. The civic body, in its affidavit in response to the plea, had said earlier that the tree authority was constituted in accordance with statutory laws and therefore it was not committing any illegality in granting permission for felling of trees for some developmental projects or other purposes. The court in its order Wednesday held that section 3(3) of the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act pertaining to appointment of independent experts, who have special and practical knowledge in the field of planting and preservation of trees, was "mandated and not just an option". "Failure to appoint such members as mandated under section 3(3) of the Act completely defeats the object of enacting the Act," the order said. The court said the order does not prevent the BMC from appointing such independent members to the panel and then seek modification of the order.