The directive is to decide on tree-cutting proposals fast so that development projects don’t get delayed. Representation pic
The directive is to decide on tree-cutting proposals fast so that development projects don’t get delayed. Representation pic

It's not a good time to be a tree, especially if you're in the ring with development. The state, it seems, wants to ensure the latter's victory. A directive to make procuring permissions for tree-cutting easier puts restrictions on site visits by a tree inspector and tree authority members. Issued by the Urban Development Department, this is for "taking instant decisions on trees proposed to be cut for development".

The new directive is the second major change within a year made in the Tree Act. Representation pic
The new directive is the second major change within a year made in the Tree Act. Representation pic

A circular issued on August 24 states that in view of 'ease of doing business', to facilitate procuring permissions for felling trees fast, it's to be mandated that one inspector (tree officer or local corporator) won't inspect the same establishment two consecutive times. The state has issued the directive under section 154 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, to all planning authorities.

This is the second major change within a year in the Tree Act. Earlier, the powers for granting permission to cut up to 25 trees without taking approval of the Tree Authority rested with the civic chief or the planning authority head.

'Move to avoid delay'
A senior civic official said, "Earlier, after a proposal to cut certain trees was received, a junior officer from the tree department of the local ward would go to inspect and prepare a report. Then, corporators or Tree Authority members insisted on multiple visits. This led to a delay in commencing the project."

"Now, as per the new directive, an officer is supposed to carry out an inspection of a site once and give a yes or no within 48 hours. The move came because Tree Authority members were sitting on several tree-cutting proposals and undertaking multiple site visits," the official added.

On August 14, mid-day had reported about the state's plan to give powers to agencies other than the Tree Authority for approving cutting of trees on their land.

Greens see red
Environmental activists and experts are, quite obviously, fuming over the changes in the tree protection act.

Stalin D of NGO Vanashakti said, "This is a move to benefit builders. In most cases, builders send tree-cutting proposals to planning authorities with false information. When officials visit the site and prepare a report, pointing out the wrong information, builders ask for a chance to submit revised proposals with corrections. Officials carry out another inspection and give permission accordingly. But now, as per the directive, there won't be any second visit, which will clearly benefit builders."

"It is like deemed permission. This loophole has been inserted specifically to get away with illegal tree cutting and to benefit vested interests," he added.

RTI activist Anil Galgali said, "This move will benefit developers and take a toll on trees, because in the name of 'ease of doing business' authorities won't listen to any objections and grant the permission. It will lead to more trees being felled without any concrete reason, as there will be no public intervention."

While slamming the directive, calling it a move to benefit builders, another citizen activist, Jitendra Gupta, however said the change could have a positive.

"It could provide some relief to citizens who repeatedly complain to the civic body about dead and dangerous trees in their housing societies, because in most such cases, the latter tends to drag its feet," he explained.