Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Committee, NOC & Trees!




“When trees are blocking your horizon, build a balcony. The sunset will be breathtaking, but not as literally as the stumps.” …Benson Bruno

Well what this famous writer has understood, we Punkers’ seems to be forgetting as looking at the mess we are having at so called tree committee, it seems nobody cares either for trees or for balconies! Before the news sharks got a fresh feed in form of Loksabha elections, there were few headlines about formation of new tree committee at Pune Municipal Corporation alias PMC. For many of those who don’t know what a tree committee is & what’s its importance in city development, well here is a little background. Few years before when any tree is required to be cut by law there is a mandatory procedure which has to be followed & it consists applying for the same to garden dept of PMC which then put forward the application after initial observations to a committee which includes few elected corporaters, ngo representives & experts in the field of biology as well horticulture. This committee meeting happens once in a month & all these members goes through the proposals of tree cutting & get proper answers to their quarries, whatsoever it may be, they used to clear the proposal. After that the garden department used to give NOC for tree cutting as well its garden departments responsibility to see the terms & conditions under which the noc has been given is being followed.

Such as plantation of new trees in lieu of the cut ones as well if there is replanting or shifting of the trees then to supervise its survival etc. For many years this practice was going on until some Mr. xxxx filed a PIL i.e. public interest litigation against PMC that the process is wrong & no norms are being followed & its leading to lots of illegal as well incorrect tree cutting is on in Pune all over thus reducing tree cover in the city. The applicant showed hundreds of tree cutting evidences to the court as well non fulfillment of the conditions under which tree cutting was allowed. At the same time this committee & garden departments inefficiency to verify the real need of the tree cutting was also petitioners one of the issue. That mean many a time a tree could have been survived by slight change in the planning of project like road or some public structure like water tank for example but it’s not being verified & a good old tree has been sacrificed negligently; is what has been put to the court.

Not hundred percent what has been shown to court was correct & keeping due respect to the court already the PMC as well so called its nexus with contractors & builders wasn’t holding a positive reputation in the eyes of honorable court, so the High Court issues a total ban on any tree cutting in Pune unless tree census of the city has been completed as well ordered PMC to follow proper guide lines for giving permission to tree cutting. Till then ever permission of a single tree cutting even a cutting of a branch also was supposed to send to the bench of Hon High Court. For this again a system has been formulated by the guideline of the high court. By this order the existing tree committee had left with no authority to sanction any tree cutting. And a new committee of experts in the field including just three persons had been appointed as per the directives. Every application filed for tree cutting to the garden department was then scrutinized by this committee & recommended back to the garden dept for further processing. These recommended permissions then were sent to high court via lawyer which then gave the final go for the tree cutting & after receiving ok from bench of the high court, garden department used to give final noc for tree cutting.

Though the process looks a bit tedious it was fast as well effective as there were no wasted interests of anybody & as high court itself is involved everybody was cautious of their verifications. And one may think bit lengthy yet it was much transparent & as the three members committee consists of experts , they were to the point & many trees has been saved from their suggestions. The only hitch was even for a single tree & an individual user also has to follow the high court route for e.g. a bungalow owner who wants to cut an aging tree which is a threat, even he too has to follow all above procedure which was indeed tedious. But then this can’t go all the life long as giving tree cutting noc’s isn’t high courts job & at the same time PMC’s members were anxious to get their authority of permitting tree cutting back, so the fight went on in high court again.

In all this battle one major aspect was tree census in the city which again got delayed from several reasons like not having enough funds (which is a joke) & not getting proper agency. Till today what happened to final outcome of the tree census is a mystery! It’s a shame that with all modern techniques at our assistance still we can’t gather information of every single tree in city & make a record of them as how we are going to protect them without having knowledge of their existence! And then the so called civic body as I mentioned was hell bent to get the noc thing in their hands. So after nearly five year court battle the high court again came down with a order which says to form a new tree committee & then only to give back the authority of tree cutting to PMC level.

Then started a race to get in this new committee, I am not a law expert yet what has been seen or should be common sense is the said tree committee must have experts on it who dealt with the tree issues by academics or field work, only should be part of the committee. And a due consideration should be given to NGOs who work in tree conservation field. A three person committee has been appointed by PMC to call for the interested participants willing to work in the committee & then the shortlisted names has been send to civic body i.e. general body of PMC & from that they have finalized some thirteen names. Its these name which has made headlines , as per many social personalities as well field experts are alleging that except a few, none of them are eligible for the job. And has been sneaked in under some non existing ngo’s names & in reality are political karykartas. Again this whole process now has taken nearly six months & during this again the tree cutting proposals have been pending with PMC, delaying the projects & causing millions of rupees damage.
Fortunately PMC finally is sending again the proposal back to the high court till the new committee comes in existence & starts functioning but the legal battle & tree seems linked for ever as already many individuals & ngo’s are moving to the court against this committee formation process itself! So for time being high court will be busy in job of analyzing the tree cutting permission for our city.

All this makes me to compare the famous hindi fraze “Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja”! In a city of so call Harvard of East, we are unable to decide amongst our self a simple system to cut down the trees is a shame or joke whatever we call it. Many will say don’t allow any tree cutting but then this is also a fascist  stand as being myself a diehard tree lover yet we have to accept that we should balance the development & trees i.e. green cover.

One has to think why the high court came down heavily showing no confidence in the existing system of granting tree cutting permission. Some 23/30 years back all along the roads as well around the bungalows we had large trees of jamun, banyan, mango & many native species, giving shadow as well green cover to the city. Under the name of development we cut most of them is a fact but what about planting new ones & are we not facing the problems caused which has arrived because of our own deeds? Though there are many examples also like on barren stretches of many suburbs due to the  new development only, new plantation also has being done making them a lot greener but that doesn’t justify cutting of old ones & non planting new ones.

No need to make someone tell us about the importance of trees that to large growing, ever green types as that only hope remaining to fight with pollution & ground water conservation. But at the same time not allowing a single tree cutting for the purpose of homes for millions as well infrastructure activities like roads, play grounds, hospitals & many more is also illogical. No development can be called as sustainable which don’t accommodate trees & if we cut one big tree it can’t be replaced by just by planting ten new trees as they will take years to serve us the way a big one was serving us which we have cut down is a fact. So a balance has to be strike & up to possible plant our development around the existing trees as much we can is a first step & for that we need to identify each & every tree. Then make aware all the planers & engineers about this basic concept of planning & then scrutinize the need of cutting the tree via only the experts & most important is make it fast. As the delay will not only increase the money burden but as well it will lead to illegal tree cutting for which we have no infrastructure to prevent. No sane person will say cut a tree unnecessary but then no sane person wont except delay in getting the permission when its essential to cut one as well when he is ready to plant & take care of the new ones.

Another issue is planting the new trees all around the city & within the city as much we can & for that we don’t need any courts permission but the determination for planting & cause behind it. As I have reputedly mentioned all major roads in this city are getting or already have become baron & who has stopped civic body or even the residents to plant new trees along them. The major hurdle is commercial development along these roads & just to encash the commercial potential of so called road view or frontage the occupants don’t allow new trees in front of these buildings. But one look at the major cities in world & you will know, trees don’t obstruct any commercial value of the shop or showrooms’ rather it adds in the same. We have to leave behind myths & learn to live along with trees.

Those who have been lucky as I has been, will remember that in our child hood we have never used to buy local fruits like mangoes, ber, jamun or sitafal as all these were to get abundance from the trees around & the joy of getting all such fruits free was immense. Today with money we may buy the best of the fruits in the world but from where we will get the joy of throwing stones ate the tree which happily used to accept the stones & in lieu of the wounds used to gift us its fruits back? I remember nearly 30 years back when I have came to Pune first time from my home town in Vidharbha, I wrote to my mother that this city don’t have summer! Because then most of the roads in the city were covered with green blanket absorbing all the heat from the sun as well whatever little smoke emitted from the vehicles. But look now what we have turned this city in to? Still this city is better & livable in compare to other cities, not because of just the modern buildings & people in them but the trees here.

It’s not about cutting a tree we should fight but it’s about making one live we should use all our efforts, then no high court will have to intervene for matters like tree cutting noc & for that we only have to decide what we want! Or else one day there will be no tree left for obtaining tree cutting permission & that will be the end of everything!

Sanjay Deshpande


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Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

MSEDCL (Power) Committee, Credai, Pune

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