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Monday, June 7, 2010

Edition 23: Trees New Branches of Scam

Sandeep Kortikar.
On the backdrop of city’s disintegrating green canopy, more and more skeletons are tumbling out of Tree Authority’s skeletons. On the one hand, money is being ‘spent’ on supposedly planting of tree samplings.
On the other hand, more than Rs 3 Crores are lying in the PMC’s coffers without any use, which are collected as a compensation for chopping off the green cover.

As hundreds of trees are being chopped off every month in the city, tree authority and garden department have become a mute spectator and not working on the guidelines given by High Court for the effective tree plantation.

The fact was highlighted recently when social activist and tree authority member Gajanan Tharkude alleged that Aniket Agro Services, which has been appointed by PMC for tree
plantation of 50,000 trees, collected Rs 1 crore 36 lakh and planted only 13,445 trees. Tharkude also demanded action against Aniket Agro Services.

Pune Municipal Corporation had decided to plant 50,000 trees under Bio Diversity Park scheme. Tenders of the scheme had been published two times in 2008. In response, only Aniket Agro Services had applied for the tender and obviously PMC had to award this tender to Aniket Agro Services. Also this company has not taken care of planted trees and claimed money for the trees, which have not been planted yet, alleges Tharkude.

Two government agencies perform the role of legal local guardians for the trees in Pune. One is the Tree Authority (TA) and the other is the Garden Department (GD), both belonging to the PMC. While the TA is the main decision- making body, chaired by the Municipal Commissioner, the GD is the implementing agency.

Asserting dilly-dallying by PMC, social activist Vinod Jain said, “There is no effective body or committee to crosscheck if the concern person has planted sufficient number of trees at the location. We know a builder from Sinhgad road, who has got the permission to axe approximately 900 trees at his construction site few months ago and in return, he didn’t planted a single tree till this date. In fact, we are thinking to highlight these law violation cases to the High Court. We also had requested Pune Municipal Corporation not to give ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) to these builders. PMC should reserve space for the tree plantation in every ward. Pune has 144 wards. This is ridiculous that Pune Municipal Corporation is not implementing the HC orders properly. We are also thinking to file a contempt of court petition in court against PMC in near future.”

Highlighting the necessity of tree census, Jain added, “PMC and Garden department should count the exact number of trees in Pune on yearly basis.”

Talking about the duties of PMC, the HC recently had said, it is the primary duty of the PMC to protect the environmental and ecological balance by planting more trees rather than cutting trees, which has adversely affected the climate the city of Pune. The court had asked the PMC to form a five-member expert committee to scrutinize all applications for cutting trees and forward the short listed one to the HC for final approval.”

Giving few details of the law violation cases and attempts to save the trees on the condition of anonymity, an activist said, “To quote a few examples: an upcoming on Senapati Bapat Road, on which 25 trees remain standing, accepted a suggestion for a small design change that involved shifting the location of the underground water tank, which saved some trees. Yet another example is on Shastri Nagar Road and Lahane Path, where we suggested that the storm water drainage should snake around the trees. This simple solution saves hundreds of trees, and is now becoming an accepted model. Similarly, we saved 24 trees at the Vaikunth Mehta Institute by suggesting a similar looping method for building a wall.”

Through an RTI application filed some months ago, Jain had unearthed the information that Rs 3.19 crore deposit money collected for tree-felling is lying unclaimed with PMC

The agency surveyed trees in the city for the one and a half year now. According to primary estimates by PMC authorities, there will be around 45,00,000 - 50,00,000 trees in the area. Last census which was conducted manually in 1997-1998. The total number of trees then was 32,88,295.

The statistic may be misleading because in earlier survey, there were many big trees in the city which were chopped down for development. Small trees can’t compensate for larger ones. The increased number is also due to the fact that during that census, only 38 sq. kms area fell under PMC limit. After 1997, villages were accommodated in the city limits thereby swelling the number.

Over the years, the PMC road department chopped thousands of trees for the widening of roads but did not plant trees in their place. When the common man has to pay a deposit for planting trees there is no provision for taking deposit from the PMC departments.”

The Reprimand From Court
Irked over the inaction by PMC, Jain and his colleague Deepak Vahikar approached the Bombay High Court against constant tree failing. The court asked the PMC to prepare a list about the trees cut in the city for construction purposes and how many have been re-planted so far.
In the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Vahikar, it was said that Tree Authority has been giving the builders permission without checking the ground, thereby, reducing the greenery in the city and damaging the environment of Pune.
The Bombay High Court has already passed an order prohibiting the PMC from felling or trimming any tree without permission from the court.

This is ridiculous that Pune Municipal Corporation is not implementing the HC orders properly. We are also thinking to file a contempt of court petition in court against PMC in near future, said Jain.
PMC is bound to persuade people to plant three trees against every tree felled as required under the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act of 1975. The Rs 3.19 crore were paid between 2003 and 2007 against tree felling by various individuals and organisations which are lying unclaimed with the PMC.

The civic body collects deposit from citizens — builders constitute a major component — for cutting a tree during a project. The deposit is returned if the evidence of having planted new trees is provided to the civic body.

According to PMC garden department officials, the deposit amount till August 2007 was Rs 2,000 per tree that was later increased to Rs 10,000 per tree. However, according to civic activists, builders still do not follow the rule that three trees should be planted against each felled tree as the deposit amount of Rs 10,000 is "miniscule" compared to their project cost.

Of the total amount collected by the PMC as deposit, about 75 per cent is collected from builders and developers, who take permission for cutting trees for their development projects, Jain said. Rajesh Shende, president of Janahit Foundation, had filed a petition with Upalokayukta against tree cutting. Upalokayukta had directed the PCM to make a list of those builders who have not recollected the deposit amount. The action on the matter is still pending.
This is ridiculous that Pune Municipal Corporation is not implementing the HC orders properly. We are also thinking to file a contempt of court petition in court against PMC in near future –Vinod Jain, Activist

-Rajesh Shende, President, Janahit Foundation

As a growing city, the city need more green cover. But the manner in which we are losing our trees, I do not hope the city will keep its attraction intact. Already, we are seeing how the city is getting hotter each summer. This is a fallout of the indiscriminate tree felling and it should be stopped altogether. - Krishnat Pawar, Software Professional

I always thought Pune as a city of greenery and cool landscapes. But the way the trees are being felled down, the day is not far when we could think that we are in Rajasthan. Administration can not escape its duty to protect the trees asd it is a question of our future. -Shuddhodhan Khatgaonkar, Marketing Executive

It is true that the deposit money against tree cutting was nominal till last year. Therefore, some builders preferred not to collect the amount. However, now as the amount has been hiked to Rs 10,000, the trend is bound to be reversed. - Balasaheb Jagzap, Tree Officer, PMC

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