Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BBMP Administrator, Commissioner and Tree Officer (Bangalore North) make mockery of High Court directions and the Public

BBMP Administrator, Commissioner and Tree Officer (Bangalore North) make mockery of High Court directions and the Public

Tree Officer approves tree felling at CNR Rao circle within 48 hours of public notice

On 15 May 2009, the Administrator and Commissioner of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike issued half page advertisements in several leading dailies costing at least 50 lakhs to the public exchequer. The ads constituted an undated, unqualified Public Notice announcing their plans to fell over 375 massive trees on Hosur Lakshkar Road and near CNR Rao Circle. The ad requested public to file their comments and objections to the projects and tree felling within 7 days to the office of Deputy Conservator of Forests, BBBP, Bangalore (North Division). That 7 day period ended on 23 May 2009, Saturday.

The undersigned filed a statement of objection to this plan (copy enclosed) on the following grounds:

“The said advertisement is issued in several prominent newspapers incurring massive public expenditure, but there is no mention whatsoever on the basis of which statute such public expenditure was incurred. This would have to be clarified first and foremost.

The Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka in its interim direction on 16 March 2009 in WP No. 7107/2008 (PIL filed by Environment Support Group and ors. vs. State of Karnataka and ors.), to which BBMP is a respondent, has categorically stated that all Respondents must “strictly follow” the provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act when implementing urban infrastructure projects. Specific reference is made to BBMP to ensure such compliance when undertaking road related works.

Nothing in the advertisement clarifies whether such compliance has preceded the proposal as mentioned in the advertisement above. Further, BBMP has not demonstrated the need for road widening being in the wider public interest as per the provisions of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act and Chapter V of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act. Further, no explicit case has been made to demonstrate the need for removal of the said trees as per Section 8 of the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act.

It is implicit therefore for the Tree Officer, per his/her mandate under the Karnataka Forest Act and the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, and also in compliance with the aforementioned direction of the High Court, to not allow for felling of trees till such time there is strict compliance with the provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act.

Any action in contravention of the directions of the aforementioned decision of the Hon'ble High Court would amount to contempt of court, and appropriate action in this regard would be initiated by the aforementioned Petitioners.”

Similarly, many other organisations and individuals would have filed their comments and objections to such mass felling of avenue trees. It is a well established norm of any public administrator who has called for public comments to first address such comments and objections before taking any executive action. And if the provisions of the Tree Act are to be followed, this process takes at least one month, if not more.

Less than hours from the expiry of the commenting period, and quite contrary to settled norms and rules, Mr. M. R. Suresh, KFS, Asst. Conservator of Forests and Tree Officer, Bangalore (North) ordered the felling of trees at CNR Rao circle. The tree felling is going on throughout the day. Mr. M. R. Suresh unilaterally took this decision in clear contravention of the provisions of the Tree Act and the High Court decision.

It must be observed here that the advertisement issued to invite “suggestions or objections”, interestingly claims that “(a)s the two development works mentioned above need to be completed very fast, removal of trees is inevitable”. If the decision had already been taken, what was the need for the BBMP to spend lakhs of public money to invite “suggestions or objections”. If a decision was already taken, what was the purpose of investing lakhs into these ad? (A half page advertisement in Deccan Herald costs Rs. 15 lakhs on an average!)

When called on his cell phone, Mr. Suresh confirmed that he has authorised the felling. But he refused to demonstrate the legality of his action suggesting, instead, that we address our concerns to his superior. When these concerns were addressed to his superior Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bangalore North), BBMP, Mr. Hubert claimed that he had nothing to do with this decision. He also confirmed that the decision to fell trees was taken by Mr. Suresh much prior to the issual of the advertisements.

Such wanton abuse of executive power is unprecedented, particularly given that an executive action is taken to fell trees within two days of the closure of a public notice inviting suggestions and objections. It is expected of a public official to consider each and every response and provide a reasoned order rationalising why a particular decision has been taken. All this requires investment of administrative time and resources, and clearly per the Tree Act and its Rules, it is not a decision that should be taken when a commenting period is in process. In fact, Form 1 (per Rule 4 of the Tree Act Rules) requires a very deliberate review of every application for tree felling, which could not have been achieved even with the most efficient bureaucracy in less than 48 hours.

This is nothing short of an open abuse of power, in which the Administrator, Commissioner and Tree Officer (Bangalore North) of the BBMP have colluded.

Keeping the above in view we have demanded that the tree felling be stopped immediately and an enquiry be undertaken into these highly questionable decisions by Mr. Suresh, by way of a letter to the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore North Division, BBMP (enclosed).

Environment Support and ors, who are Petitioners in the aforementioned PIL, will explore all legal and other remedies to ensure such blatant abuse of executive power by the Adminstrator, Commissioner and BBMP Tree Officer (North Bangalore) must not go unpunished.

Leo F. Saldanha


Environment Support Group

Vinay Sreenivasa

Hasiru Usiru


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