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RTI exposes rot within PMC's tree authority

Two RTIs filed by an NGO reveal that committee members aren't qualified for the post, and that the group also fails to comply with other norms set by the high court

Two RTIs replies have revealed the deep rot in the Pune Municipal Corporation's Tree Authority and also exposes how the committee has been working hand in glove with the builder lobby to ensure trees don't become stumbling blocks in their construction activities.

The RTI, filed by NGO Pune Tree Watch, exposes several rules being flouted, and also raises doubts of the legality of its formation. The committee was formed on March 23, 2014, after the previous one was dissolved in 2009.

According to the reply to the RTI query, most of the associates have failed to comply with the norms prescribed by the High Court. "This is an outright scam, as most of the tree authority members have connections with some political party or the other. It is shocking that in a cultural and educationally rich city like Pune, the screening committee could not find suitable members.

By doing this, the PMC has wasted lakhs of taxpayers' money," alleged Vinita Deshmukh, convener, Pune Tree Watch, who filed the RTI. According to the replies, out of the 13-member team, seven of these members are not graduates, a rule set by the High Court. In fact, the documents reveal that some members have only passed Std VII to Std XII. Qualifications of the rest, too, do not meet the standards set by the court.

Ignored HC directives
The court specifies that members of the tree authority should be science graduates or must have a degree in agriculture or environment, and that the members must be associated with an apolitical non-governmental organisation (NGO), which is minimum five years old.

The RTI application, filed with the deputy director of Social Forestry Department (SFD), Pune, revealed that not a single NGO has been registered with them as prescribed by the HC.

The members have neither submitted any documentary evidence supporting their educational qualifications, nor given CDs and PowerPoint presentations proving their involvement with their NGOS. They got away by filing affidavits when the screening committee raised objections.

The RTI also reveals that the corporators, while forming the screening committee, flouted High Court norms, thereby questioning the whole process itself. The High Court had directed that the screening committee should consist of six members. However, in reality, it is just a three-member committee, Deshmukh said.

Retired Major General S C N Jathar from Nagarik Chetna Manch said, "We issued a show cause notice to the Pune municipal commissioner on March 27. The appointments and selection were done against High Court's orders.

The Bombay High Court judgment, dated September 20, 2013, says that the selecting committee members should at least be science graduates. Automatically, the committee becomes defunct, for they do not meet the criteria. So, the selected screening committees and nominated NGO members have no legal standing."

He added, "You cannot have 13 members as tree authority members and 13 more as NGO members. None of the members have registered their NGOs with SFD. The selection committee has ignored the commissioner's remarks and screening committee's recommendations. A new authority should be formed, as the basis of this authority is dubious."

The other side

Tree officer and member secretary of the tree authority, Mohan Dhere, said, "It is not a violation of provisions. The court order says 'preferably' and it is not compulsory." When asked about the applicants, he replied, "It is the sole discretion of the tree authority."

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